Progress. As several community partners combine forces to address Anchorage's homelessness issue, we are seeing some success. The numbers tell a story. In the past two years:
• The number of families without a place to stay fell by 91, from 371 to 280.
• The number of single adults in homelessness decreased by 62 — going from 902 individuals to 840.
That is at least 150 people not worrying about where they sleep tonight. Think about that. We have a long way to go to end homelessness, but let's take a moment to reflect on these people and their story.
Each one is unique and we cannot work to provide a way off the street unless we understand each one. We are taking an approach that looks at the person – when you do that, you are helping people come out into the open and opening a door.
To be fair, not every number is as positive and not every picture we see in our community is pleasing. However, the optics are not portraying the deep changes occurring. When a community really acts to change the services offered to people who are homeless, it is not simple or easy. It is messy and it takes time – we are in Year 2 of a long process that will change Anchorage for the better.
The statistics above are a reflection of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness Point in Time Count numbers that will be released Monday. The Point in Time Count is annual data collection of the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single day and night. This methodology is used nationally to provide an estimate of homelessness in a community. Anchorage participates in this count every year as a part of our commitment to track, assess and end homelessness in our community.
As an economy shrinks, often the numbers of people experiencing homelessness increase dramatically. That did not happen over the past year. The overall number of people experiencing homelessness stayed almost identical – going from 1105 to 1128.
We are turning a corner, and we are using innovative and evidence-based methods to reach people, connect them with services and get them into housing.
It is not easy. Every day, the staff at Brother Francis Shelter and Bean's Cafe see higher numbers of people using services, and moving in and out of the area. The public sees this too, oftentimes at street corners and in parks. We urge you to not judge the book by its cover. Our methods are working – and the numbers are decreasing. There are service providers in the community such as RurAL CAP, Covenant House, Catholic Social Services and many others who are reaching out to people every day to connect them to permanent housing.
The issue of homelessness is complex. Because of this, the progress may not look neat and the solution may not be easy. However, meaningful changes are underway.
Evidence from across the nation – and around the world – tells us that identifying those in need, keeping them in housing, and continuing to provide support for the underlying issues that cause homelessness take pressure off the public system, save the community money and, most important, change the lives of the people in need in our town. This is how we are going to end homelessness and we are on the way.
Today, there are at least 150 people whose story starts with knowing they have a place to sleep tonight. They did not have that security two years ago. Let's build on that story together.
Lisa Aquino is executive director of Catholic Social Services and the chair of the board of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness.
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