An innovative program helps Anchorage residents find a path out of homelessness

SPONSORED: The Home for Good initiative is a first for Alaska and has already achieved big wins for the Anchorage community.

Presented by United Way of Anchorage

Jerome was homeless in Anchorage for 15 years. He spent his nights at shelters, and sometimes hotels. During the day he’d spend hours waiting in line for a meal at local soup kitchens.

Living on Anchorage streets, “Nothing is safe,” Jerome said. “Things disappear, things are stolen. You could be assaulted. I have been, several times. It can be a real nightmare.”

Jerome, 56, grew up in Southcentral Alaska. He lived in the Lower 48 for some years before returning to Anchorage.

“I came back up here and found myself homeless in my 40s,” he said.

He ran into countless obstacles while trying to regain his footing. He struggled with alcoholism, and with two felony DUIs on his record, was denied access to social programs and jobs. He tried to find housing for more than six years.

“It’s an incredible, difficult struggle,” Jerome said of being homeless. “It’s really, really hard to lift yourself up out of it.”

That all changed seven months ago, when Jerome connected with Home for Good, an innovative program seeking to move Anchorage residents out of homelessness, permanently.

“It is the best program that I’ve seen come along since I became homeless,” he said.

Jerome is one of 67 people who have found safe and stable housing thanks to Home for Good as of early January. The solutions-based program is the first of its kind in Alaska, a Pay for Success model where the municipality pays only for results achieved — and the program is delivering on its goals.

Pay For Success: A new approach brings big results

People in Anchorage who are hardest to house are caught in a cycle of chronic homelessness. Many have complex behavioral and medical conditions and needs, and without support, they frequently turn to emergency services, cycling through hospital visits and arrests before returning to shelters, or living outdoors in Alaska’s elements.

So far, Home for Good has shown strong results in halting this cycle.

Participants who had housing for at least 12 months had a 76% reduction in Anchorage Safety Center intakes, 44% reduction in Anchorage Fire Department Emergency Medical Services transports, 67% reduction in arrests and 72% reduction in shelter stays, an independent evaluation found in December 2022.

“That’s really encouraging to us, both from a perspective of showing quite an improvement in individual lives … and also for the community,” Home for Good Project Director Sam Longacre said.

United Way of Anchorage has brought a wide range of community partners together, acting as “an incubator for the community to try something new,” Longacre said.

Joining United Way in Home for Good management are the Municipality of Anchorage, Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and Social Finance Inc., a national nonprofit with expertise in Pay for Success programs.

Southcentral Foundation, Alaska Behavioral Health, and CHOICES Inc. provide case managers who support Home for Good tenants as they navigate a spectrum of challenges, and help clients stay healthy and housed.

A successful pilot program in 2019 led to Home for Good’s official launch in October 2020. Initial program funders include the Alaska Community Foundation, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Municipality of Anchorage, Rasmuson Foundation, Premera Blue Cross, and the Providence Alaska Foundation.

The Municipality of Anchorage now provides financial support in later stages, but only if outcomes are achieved. Home for Good must reach a certain number of months of stable housing by individuals in the program. This is verified by an independent evaluation.

In 2021, the city provided its first payment following the program’s initial success and has since made several more to fund the program.

In another first, data from police, fire, and health departments were integrated to identify homeless individuals who are high utilizers of Anchorage’s emergency services.

Now, eligible individuals are being sought out to be offered a spot in the program.

“Our neighbors are people that are experiencing homelessness, and they really need that stable environment to address their needs,” Longacre said.

Home for Good provides individual social services far beyond housing. Individualized support from a case management allows clients to get the services they need, when they need them.

Jerome found stable housing key to making positive changes in his life. He was taken off felony probation right before moving into his apartment. Seven months later, he is still off felony probation, for the first time in seven years.

‘Hard to fathom’

Martha was an “average, everyday mother” with a blue-collar career before losing her home.

“I went from that, to being retired, to being homeless,” she told the United Way of Anchorage. “And that’s quite a big jump.”

Even as she started working with the program, Martha feared she’d have to face challenges alone. But with Home for Good, she found comprehensive support and resources for mental and physical wellbeing.

“It looks at you as a whole person,” she said of the program.

Now, Martha’s long-term goal is now to buy her own home.

“That way I can have my future set,” Martha said. “That’s my goal, that’s my dream … and be able to relax and feel safe, and have a roof over my head long-term, and for the rest of my life not have to worry about that again.”

Home for Good was first envisioned as lasting three years. That timeline changed to five years, as the COVID-19 pandemic altered outreach and affected case management staff, and made finding housing more challenging for prospective tenants.

Under its current model, Home for Good aims to house 150 Anchorage residents.

“We’re starting to see a pick-up in our ability to house more people each month,” Longacre said. “So that’s really exciting.”

Jerome said it’s “hard to fathom” that he used to wait hours in line for a meal.

Now, he’s found freedom in cooking easy, quick meals at home. A microwaved quesadilla, ready in 90 seconds, is a far cry from the hours he used to spend in search of food.

And he’s starting to feel safe again after more than a decade of looking over his shoulder.

Home for Good is helping him, and many others, find new footing in life.

This story was sponsored by United Way of Anchorage thanks to a grant from ConocoPhillips Alaska. United Way of Anchorage serves the community as a convener, funder, sustainable changemaker, and as a service provider. If you’d like to join hands with United Way in this work and learn how you can contribute, please visit LiveUnitedAnc.Org.

This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with United Way of Anchorage. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.