New money helps expand homeless services in Anchorage

A man walks out of the men's section of the mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
A man walks out of the men's section of the mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 8:14 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As homelessness continues to be at the forefront of issues affecting the city of Anchorage, residents have made it clear they want to see fewer people living on the street. While there’s disagreement on how to accomplish that, some current service providers are expanding their means to help those people with extra grant funds.

Beans Cafe and Alaska Behavioral Health are both of the recipients of millions of dollars in grant money awarded by organizations like the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and the Rasmuson Foundation.

The grants went out for a number of mental health projects in the state, but Beans and ABH are using their awards to bolster navigation and outreach services to get people off the streets and into housing.

At the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, CEO Mike Abbott said grants they awarded throughout fiscal year 2020 added up to about $24 million. Last quarter, which amounted to over $900,000, is particularly important because of the pandemic.

“These days, behavioral health care is even more important than it might have been otherwise,” Abbott said. “And we’re trying to make sure that the systems here in Alaska are capable of supporting our beneficiaries.”

Abbott said they help fund everything between new experimental treatment options to hiring more staff for hard to fill positions like navigation specialists. CEO of Beans Cafe, Lisa Sauder, said the $50,000 they got from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and another $150,000 from the Rasmuson Foundation have allowed them to hire three full-time navigation specialists.

Sauder described these positions as people who help those experiencing homelessness take care of the “little things” that are crucial to getting out of shelters and into homes.

“Maybe they need an ID,” she said. “We all know you can’t get a job if you don’t have an ID, but if you don’t have one and you don’t have the means or the money to get one, you’re really stuck.”

Since the Sullivan Arena was turned into a mass shelter at the beginning of the pandemic in Alaska, Sauder said specialists like that have gotten 234 people into their own homes.

It wasn’t all on Beans however, Intensive Services Director for Alaska Behavioral Health, Cheryl Charic said they shifted gears to doing more services with homeless youth and adults since coronavirus started changing everything else.

ABH has received about $475,000 in grants from AMHTA, the Rasmuson Foundation and the Premera Blue Cross Shield of Alaska, which will project them further into expanding their homeless services.

They already do youth outreach, but now they are in the process of getting a whole new building to do outreach for both homeless youth and adults along with more people to fill those positions.

While these are big sums of money going into these services, Charic said they pale in comparison to the money that would be saved if there was more help for the homeless.

“It turns out that it’s actually much more expensive to have a person homeless in the community than to have them housed, because of the 911 calls, because of visits to the Emergency Room, because of ways that they’re not able to use preventative care to treat issues when they’re small, issues become very large,” Charic said.

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