Homelessness is a pervasive problem across the country. In parts of Anchorage, it is more visible than ever. The January homelessness count put the number of people experiencing homelessness in Anchorage at 1,094 and we know some are missed in that canvas.
Yet there’s ample reason for hope. The municipality, business leaders, service providers and partners including Rasmuson Foundation are looking into promising solutions with a fresh sense of urgency. Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz on Thursday announced steps for an improved community response to homelessness.
Anchored Home: Anchorage’s three-year strategic plan to address homelessness draws on new tools and strategies, building on the community’s existing work and planning. And the business community has seats at the table.
The goal is to ensure homelessness is, as leaders said, “a rare, brief and one-time event.” Leaders want to hear from the community to shape the draft plan. Two community meetings are set for next month to gather input.
“This is not another strategy plan,” Jasmine Khan, executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, said Thursday at the press event announcing the new effort. She described it as a tactical road map to action. Data will inform the work, and regular reports will be made to the public at the coalition’s website, she said.
Anchorage Homeless Leadership Council: This group of prominent Anchorage leaders will oversee the plan as it is put into action. The council will leverage resources, monitor data, hold service providers and other stakeholders accountable, inform the public on results, and provide overall direction on next steps. It will be co-chaired by Mayor Berkowitz and Bruce Lamoureux, chief executive of Providence Health & Services Alaska. Rasmuson Foundation President and CEO Diane Kaplan is one of the members. The group also includes Alaska Native, business and spiritual leaders.
A long view: This effort is fueled by work already begun including the new coordinated entry process to identify the people experiencing homelessness and prioritize efforts to help them. Almost half of the families on that list were quickly housed through the Family Community Housing Initiative and in that group, almost all moved into permanent housing within 30 days.
Other new approaches underway in Anchorage include the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, the Pay For Success permanent supportive housing program, and the Path to Independence pilot project to get 40 individuals into housing fast. A multi-pronged solution will look beyond closing of camps to connect people with case managers, affordable housing and treatment for addiction and mental illness. Additional resources will be needed.
Models of success: Nine communities have essentially ended homelessness among veterans or the chronically homeless – meaning that affordable housing and supports are available for everyone in need. The new standard is “functional zero,” with communities counting down to the goal of zero homelessness.
Public comment: A series of meetings will allow community councils, business groups and others to have a voice in the draft Anchored Home plan. On Sept.5, housing and support services providers will gather at Loussac Library’s conference room starting at 10 a.m. And on Sept. 18, a community-wide discussion will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Wilda Marston Theatre. Comments can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Action: On-the-ground leadership to implement the plan will come from Khan; Nancy Burke, the municipality’s housing and homelessness coordinator; and Dick Mandsager, a pediatrician and longtime Alaska health leader serving as Rasmuson Foundation’s first senior fellow. He will be on loan to the Anchorage Homeless Leadership Council (HLC).