Anchorage

Anchorage nonprofit gets $5M grant from fund backed by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos to help homeless families

Catholic Social Services, Bezos Day 1 Family Fund, homelessness

Anchorage’s Catholic Social Services is planning to house at least 300 more homeless families over the next five years after landing a $5 million grant from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Day 1 Families Fund, the local nonprofit announced this week.

Catholic Social Services is one of 32 nonprofits nationwide to receive a one-time grant from the fund this year, and the only one in Alaska. Nationally, the awards total $98.5 million.

"I’m just over the moon,” Lisa Aquino, Catholic Social Services executive director, said on Friday during a news conference in Anchorage about the new grant. “It’s truly a game changer for Anchorage.”

The Day 1 Families Fund launched in 2018 to provide annual awards to organizations that are working to help families facing homelessness.

Catholic Social Services’ grant will be used to expand the city’s rapid rehousing program. The rehousing program provides short-term financial assistance and case management to move families into homes. With more money, Aquino expects to serve more families, she said.

The grant will also help launch a new pilot program to catch families either soon after or while they’re in the midst of losing their housing. The goal is to immediately provide support to keep them in housing and out of shelters, Aquino said.

“Once you’re in the system, it’s just that much harder to get out,” she said.

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There were 92 homeless families in Anchorage as of Thursday, Aquino said, citing data from the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness coordinated entry list. That number includes 322 people, and more than half of them are children, she said.

Dave Kuiper, associate director for Christian Health Associates, said the $5 million grant gives him hope for struggling Anchorage families. Kuiper coordinates the emergency cold weather shelter system in churches.

“If we can keep our kids in homes and help their families be strong, we can bend the curve dramatically toward ending homelessness in our community," he said Friday.

The new grant announcement comes on the heels of a five-year pledge by Alaska nonprofits and businesses to invest $40 million into efforts to combat homelessness in the city.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said Friday that the new grant will help the city move further and faster on its goals.

“Solving homelessness in Anchorage, Alaska, is something that can be done,” he said.

The injection of funding follows a chaotic summer for the city’s homeless services during the state’s tense back-and-forth budgeting process.

Under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s first round of budget vetoes in late June, the providers faced sudden and significant state funding cuts. State lawmakers later put most of the money back for homeless services, and Dunleavy didn’t veto it.

While Aquino described the new grant as "incredible,” she said there’s still a deep layer of uncertainty about the future of state funding for homeless services. The grant cannot be used to replace state money, she said.

“I want to be clear to our state government that (the grant) is because of the great work that we do, and that great work has been possible because of the state government," Aquino said. “If they pull out then basically the infrastructure crumbles."

Founded in 1966, Catholic Social Services provides an array of services in Anchorage, including running Brother Francis Shelter, the city’s largest overnight shelter, and Clare House, a shelter for women and children.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.

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