Anchorage joins national homeless veterans initiative

Devin Kelly

Anchorage is joining a national initiative to end homelessness among U.S. military veterans by 2015, officials announced Wednesday.

The initiative, called the Mayor's Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, is part of a push by the federal government to end overall homelessness by 2020.

"Many cities throughout the nation are focused on this issue. Anchorage is too," Mayor Dan Sullivan said at a Wednesday press conference.

He noted the city's history of commitment to homeless initiatives including Karluk Manor, the city's first facility to offer permanent housing to the chronically homeless without requiring them to quit drinking.

Since the federal government published the first national plan on ending homelessness in 2010, veteran homelessness has declined by 24 percent, chronic homelessness by 16 percent and overall homelessness by 6 percent, said Bill Block, the regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In January, the White House recognized Phoenix as the first city to meet the 2015 goal of sheltering all homeless veterans. Other cities currently participating in the initiative include Oakland, California, Jacksonville, Florida and Minneapolis.

In 2013, Anchorage identified 166 chronically homeless veterans, all but six of whom were sheltered, Block said.

"The goal is, really, there are no unsheltered vets. That's a firm line," Block said. The initiative also aims to move veterans more rapidly from the shelter system into permanent housing.

In Anchorage, HUD plans to invest in the Veterans Affairs Supported Housing program, which offers vouchers, and Supported Services for Veteran Families, Block said.

Federal funds will also be providing $3 million in upgrades to the Safe Harbor transitional housing property, in partnership with the Rural Alaska Community Action Program. Those upgrades will include adding rental units and moving some transitional units into permanent housing, said Melinda Freemon, division manager for the city's Division of Public Health Initiatives and Partnerships.

In ranking criteria for social services programs, veterans receive higher points, which helps them gain entry into housing facilities like Safe Harbor and Karluk Manor, Freemon said.

Reach Devin Kelly at or 257-4314.