The best thing we can do about family homelessness in Anchorage is to prevent it. That’s what United Way of Anchorage, volunteers and community partners will be doing on Friday, Feb. 7, when we Walk 4 Warmth. We’re turning a short walk — half a mile — into a path to raise awareness and money for rent and utility assistance to keep Anchorage families housed and warm.
This year’s Walk renews an event last held in 2017. And the need to walk again is clear.
According to several data sources, it is estimated that about 17,000 Anchorage households are one medical crisis, major car repair or layoff away from the brink of eviction or foreclosure. That’s why Alaska 2-1-1, United Way’s helpline, has recently taken so many calls for rent or utility assistance.
Many of us know people who have seen the financial edge — and then gone over it. Some of us have known days when we could see it from where we stood. We know how that feels. We know what a difference a break can make. We know that a helping hand, even from neighbors we don’t know, is a well-needed fighting chance and a lot more.
Alan Budahl, Executive Director of Lutheran Social Services, says they received almost 50 calls for such help in December — even though Lutheran Social Services didn’t have a dime to offer such help in all of 2019. Budahl said he’s glad to see the Walk 4 Warmth back, because Lutheran Social Services is a longtime provider of rent and utility assistance fortified by counseling and case management. They know how to help effectively in the moment — and how to help people avoid the need for help in the future.
People who seek help from Lutheran Social Services must bring an eviction and/or utility cutoff notice. Lutheran Social Services determines immediate needs and then works with families to plan and budget to prevent a monthly cycle of the same needs. They work closely with services like the Anchorage School District’s Child-in-Transition program for homeless kids and Nine Star Education and Employment Services.
“The whole goal here is to prevent homelessness,” says Budahl.
Dave Kuiper, coordinator of the Emergency Cold Weather Shelter system, echoed that goal. He cites data that shows homelessness in childhood is the greatest single predictor of homelessness as an adult. Keep that child and his family housed now, and you do good that spans decades.
When it comes to homelessness, the old saying about an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is an understatement. Budahl described one family that was spending rent money on groceries. Lutheran Social Services connected them to its food pantry, thus stretching their grocery budget and leaving rent intact. In another case, what looked like a crippling car repair was resolved with a $54 part, sparing the family budget and helping one mother’s child keep perfect attendance at school.
As a leading partner in Anchored Home, the city’s initiative to make homelessness rare, brief and one-time only, United Way’s focus is on prevention and diversion, finding partners, and creating opportunities to be a driver of change for the good of our community.
To help a family stay housed in Anchorage may be a challenge, but it’s far easier to keep a family housed than to regain housing after eviction or foreclosure. For starters, the latter costs more. Strain intensifies for parents and children suffering problems that range from child support to a family member’s addiction and only grows greater. And too often, we all pick up the social and economic tab.
All of us gain not only by what we provide, but what we prevent.
With housing, struggling families have a base from which to tackle other problems. They have that place to come together, rest and recharge. They have an address, a place where they wake up to go to school, go to work, where they begin to meet the day’s challenges.
This is a chance for all of us to do something simple and substantial to help our neighbors and strengthen our community. Let’s walk together for warmth this Friday!
Kelsey Preecs serves as Director of Volunteer and Community Engagement for United Way of Anchorage. United Way’s Walk 4 Warmth will meet at First Presbyterian Church of Anchorage, 616 W. 16th Ave., at 4:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7.
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