Skip to main Content
Opinions

How we plan to solve homelessness in Anchorage

  • Author: Michele Brown
    | Opinion
    , Jasmine Khan
    | Opinion
    , Nancy Burke
    | Opinion
    , Dr. Richard Mandsager
    | Opinion
  • Updated: November 1, 2018
  • Published November 1, 2018

Bean’s Cafe, photographed early Wednesday morning, Aug. 31, 2016, and neighboring Brother Francis Shelter together provide services for many of Anchorage’s homeless population. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Anchored Home is Anchorage's three-year plan to solve homelessness, and we've never tried anything like this before.

Anchorage has had task forces, community plans, summits, forums and initiatives reaching back decades. And as you're reading this, good people are at work helping some of our neighbors living through homelessness with housing, treatment and job training.

We're not starting from scratch. Anchored Home's scale, unity, collaboration and realism are the new elements the community is committing to. We know we will not end homelessness in Anchorage by 2021. But we can do better. We can achieve functional zero.

Functional zero means that we have the wherewithal to swiftly house and support anyone who needs that help. In market terms, it's supply equals demand, without a long wait.

That's what we aim to build in Anchorage. Reach functional zero and we will have a city in which homelessness is mostly a rare, brief and one-time experience. We don't want those words to be a rote slogan, but a description of reality. And we mean for that reality to have range, from families who need just a little hand up to that afflicted neighbor most of us cross the street to avoid, but who needs our help for keeps.

This goal requires a vertical climb that would give a fighter pilot pause.
But we have the most important element to make that climb – determined people with a strong sense of mission and the will to pull together. If you check out the Anchored Home plan, on the first page, you'll see a list of 68 participating groups. Some of those groups bring a wealth of experience in finding housing and help. Anchored Home doesn't aim to change what they do, but to provide the means to do more with a level of coordination and cooperation that puts our neighbors experiencing homelessness first.

To that end, Anchored Home is based on four pillars, led by people already committed to working together: prevention and diversion, the housing and support system, public health and safety, advocacy and funding.

We'll all do what needs to be done – from the accounting work of data collection and data sharing to the field work of reaching out to people through barriers of trauma past and present, substance abuse, mental illness and fear. We aim to better understand the scope of the problem in numbers, but always remember each person is more than a number, each person has a name. We'll know their names. We will know each person's story and seek to learn what we can do better to prevent similar stories. And we'll tailor help to their needs, whether to get them to emergency shelter if they're on the street or to keep them off the street through pre-emptive services like United Way's 2-1-1 Helpline.

We'll continue to see and hear our neighbors who live both in and near homeless camps – and live with their hazards. We understand their anger and frustration. Work to clean up camps, within the limits of the law and with respect for the rights of those who live there, will go on. We neither promise nor can we deliver overnight change. But we'll do our best to mitigate camp hazards to health and safety – both for vulnerable campers and their neighbors.

We'll continue to look for new funding sources and methods, like the Pay for Success model that relies on private and nonprofit investors and only taps public funds for specific, proven and delivered outcomes. We'll track Path to Independence, a pilot partnership of private landlords, housing authorities, service providers and funders to help up to 40 newly homeless individuals and families quickly get back on their feet.

We have a plan. But we don't claim to have all the answers. While we know that the housing-first principle works, we also know that its application isn't one size fits all. We understand that the level of collaboration required to resolve homelessness on this scale will be a first. We can draw on the experiences of cities like Denver and Boston, where people joined hands in similar ambitious projects; much of the work we've done already is based on successful work elsewhere.

Even better, we can take heart in the recent success we've had in housing families –and in the functional zero already achieved in emergency winter shelter for families with children. Eleven churches have united to make sure this will be the seventh straight winter in which no child in Anchorage need sleep in a cold car or worse, even when year-round shelters are full. We believe that this is an example of how Anchored Home should operate – a community effort to benefit all of us.

We'll learn and refine as we go. In crafting this plan, we've sought and received help in public forums, community councils, from social service providers, business and industry groups, nonprofits and homeless persons – all told, more than 700 people. We'll keep in touch with people across the city affected by homelessness, not least those who are living it. You can check out scheduled future public events at the websites of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and the municipality.

Anchored Home is based on four pillars, but its real foundation is the deep reservoir of good will in the Anchorage community.

The four authors are leading the four pillars of Anchored Home. Michele Brown, president and CEO of United Way of Anchorage, heads prevention and diversion; Jasmine Khan, executive director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, leads housing and support systems; Nancy Burke, Housing and Homeless coordinator for the Municipality of Anchorage, leads public health and safety; and Dr. Richard Mandsager, senior fellow with the Anchorage Homelessness Leadership Council, heads advocacy and funding.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Local news matters.

Support independent, local journalism in Alaska.

Comments