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Feds award $3.5 million for Alaska homeless assistance

Rachel D'oro

More than two dozen homeless programs in Alaska have won renewed federal funding totaling $3.5 million to keep people off the streets in 2012.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development say the money from the agency's "Continuum of Care" program will be paid as quickly as possible.

HUD also is reviewing applications for new projects that could receive funding early next year, spokesman Lee Jones said Tuesday.

Recipients in Alaska said the money is a crucial funding source to deal with the problem in the state, where the homeless population can top 6,000. Nationally, there are an estimated 636,000 homeless people.

In Anchorage, Alaska's biggest city, the homeless population can be as high as 3,000.

"If this money went away it would have dramatic impact on homeless issues in this city and the state," said John Sperbeck, a manager at Anchorage Community Mental Health Services who works with housing and homelessness programs in the city. The office received three of the 25 continuum of care grants, including the largest at more than $646,000 going toward housing rental subsidies and behavior-health services.

Suzi Pearson, chair of the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, says a statewide survey in January counted 6,460 people who fit the homeless profile, including those in shelters.

The survey counted 697 people deemed chronic substance abusers and 478 with severe mental illness. But it's inaccurate to think that only street drunks are homeless, according to Pearson, executive director of the Abused Women's Aid in Crisis shelter in Anchorage. The 52-bed shelter is in line to receive more than $107,000 through HUD's continuum of care program.

The homeless survey also counted 384 victims of domestic violence and 1,223 households with dependent children. Some low-income people also are pushed out of their homes by events that are catastrophic to them, such as paying for medical emergencies or car problems instead of making the rent, Pearson said.

"The face of homelessness is not the chronic inebriate. You're seeing a number of homeless families," she said. "We would want people to understand that you're looking at children and families not able to meet their income needs, so they end up homeless."


By RACHEL D'ORO
Associated Press