In advance of the April 5 Anchorage municipal election, the Anchorage Daily News asked candidates running for Assembly and Anchorage School Board a series of issue questions. Read all the Assembly and school board candidates’ responses here.
Q: What do you see as the most effective strategies to address homelessness in Anchorage going forward?
District 2 - Seat A - Eagle River/Chugiak
Treatment is critical. I have been a landlord for a very long time. I have even worked with Low Income Housing Tax Credit properties, rented to people on AK Housing, Catholic Social Services, PRC, Home for Good, United Way and others. All low-income housing is transitional housing where people are in need of temporary assistance to get through a troubling time. Sadly, the system is mired in people who know how to abuse the generosity of the taxpayer and they have discovered that it does not have to be temporary. There is a group called the “million-dollar club” that is notorious for getting one person in on a lease, then moving multiple people into the unit and destroying the property. The landlords receive no assistance dealing with them, just the bill and a long, drawn-out eviction process. They move out after causing thousands of dollars in damage and driving away the good tenants. Oftentimes the Housing Assistance programs place people who desperately need hospitalization or treatment, but those are NOT required for housing and it’s the landlord who pays. More housing is not solving the problem if there is no provision requiring treatment. I can go on for hours on this topic alone. I have dealt with it personally and helped others firsthand. The lack of support for the property owner, low standards for the tenant, and not tying housing to treatment has created a system that is not meeting the needs of the people.
The simple answer is to provide shelter and basic services. The longer-term solution is to develop or find affordable housing and living space and generate opportunity for those who seek to get off the street. Let’s examine some other cities that have been successful in eliminating or minimizing the problem.
Finding housing and immediate health care for our homeless population is imperative. When people have basic needs met, they will see themselves as valued and capable. We need to help them get on with their lives. We need more immediate services for mental health and addiction
District 3 - Seat D - West Anchorage
Anchorage has a strategic roadmap to ensuring homelessness is rare, brief and one-time (“Anchored Home”), which emphasizes four pillars: 1) prevention and diversion, 2) housing and support systems, 3) public health and safety, and 4) advocacy and funding. During my time on the Assembly, I’ve supported policy and fiscal choices that will fund the acquisition of hotels for conversion to needed shelter for the medically fragile and transitional housing, I have increased municipal support for social service providers, and I helped allocate funding for the critical mobile crisis team. Now I’m working on a day center that will provide the services folks need to find jobs, secure long-term housing, and break the cycle of homelessness. As the former director of program services at Catholic Social Services, where I focused on this issue, I am excited about the real progress we’re making. So, too, is the private sector, where $10 million in funding has been made available due to confidence in our plan.
Providing housing is a start, but there needs more focus on mental health treatment. Partnering more aggressively with the Alaska Mental Health Trust that provides funding to deal with mental health issues.
The homelessness industrial complex has overtaken our country. Anchorage is no different.
District 4 - Seat F - Midtown
There are ways to positively address homelessness. The way the Assembly has approached this issue is to spend more and more money with dismal results. Taking over the Sullivan Arena, among the longest running emergency shelters in the U.S., has had a negative impact on our whole community. We need to listen to people who are getting the results we desire. The Downtown Hope Center has taken no public funds, has gotten positive results and has been completely dismissed by this Assembly. We must pay attention to the people and organizations who are achieving success with homelessness. Working with these individuals and organizations will help to solve this heartbreaking, community destroying problem for all people in Anchorage.
Homelessness can happen for various reasons, and experiencing homelessness, regardless of the cause, is traumatic. Housing is the solution to homelessness, but Anchorage has an affordable housing crisis. Until there are enough available units to meet the need, investments in short-term emergency response will have to continue. Additionally, asking individuals what they want and need is essential to getting buy-in to any services offered. With client direction, the Muni and providers can offer the appropriate options for services. Finally, better coordination of traditional safety-net services, such as Medicaid, food stamps and the homeless response system allows providers to leverage various resources to help individuals and doesn’t place the full cost of the response on any one entity.
District 5 - Seat H - East Anchorage
First, it is NOT building a massive, concentrated new shelter in East Anchorage or anywhere else. Time and again, studies and examples from other cities demonstrate that smaller facilities targeted at specific needs work better for people experiencing homelessness, get to the root causes, AND are better for neighborhoods. The current facilitated process between the Assembly and administration recommends a multi-pronged approach, with treatment, workforce housing, a facility for medically fragile and complex care needs, and smaller shelters that serve different populations with different needs. While I am still opposed to the size of the “navigation center” that the mayor is attempting to put at Tudor and Elmore – 50% larger than the Brother Francis Shelter at its height – the other portions of the plan appear sound, and are similar to the plan passed by the Assembly in May of 2021, which the mayor initially discarded.
I want to start with the churches because charity comes from the church. If the churches don’t want to help, okay, let’s put them on blast, because Christ said everyone who approaches me, man, woman and child, will be treated the same. You can’t pass a law that says, “I can’t give a homeless person my coffee money,” and then say in the same breath that we are going to give $6 million, $15 million dollars to the homeless problem.
Bean’s Café, Hope Center, and the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission are all successfully transitioning people experiencing homelessness into productive lives. We could partner with these organizations and duplicate their models on a larger scale. Almost everyone can contribute to the larger community in some way. When people learn life skills and job skills, they are better equipped to become contributing members of the community. They gain confidence and move toward a more hope-filled and productive future. Another strategy would be to research other cities that have successfully addressed homelessness and learn from them.
District 6 - Seat J - South Anchorage
It’s a very tricky area, there is no easy solution, but as a community we need to come together for a solution.
Homelessness is a multifaceted issue, and all strategies should be considered to address this diverse population. I support public-private partnerships, such as the proposed navigation center, and facilities such as the Hope Center. I support reduction in panhandling and illegal camping to push homeless people toward the established resources designed for them. I support looking across the U.S. to copy successful strategies from proven programs in other cities.
Everyone on the street has a different story, making strategies to decrease homelessness very complex. Until a couple years ago, the MOA left the challenge to nonprofits and faith based organizations. That wasn’t working. Mayor Bronson made this a priority and supports putting city money towards the effort. I am a member of the group working with the mayor that developed a path forward for a MOA role in the homeless system. That includes buying hotels for people with medically complex problems, for workforce housing and for supportive housing. We are helping to reactivate an alcohol recovery site. We are looking for a place for elders and vulnerable groups and a new low-barrier navigation center. We are moving forward now on all of these. They will make a difference. We aren’t doing it alone. This is in collaboration with generous businesses and organizations like Rasmuson Foundation, Chugach Alaska, Calista, Weidner Apartment Homes, Providence Hospital, Doyon and others.
Read more Q&As with Anchorage Assembly candidates: