Proposed project seeks to house biggest users of Anchorage emergency services

Published: Sep. 19, 2020 at 8:32 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Municipality of Anchorage could soon be signing on to a program with the United Way of Anchorage aimed at getting some of the city’s chronically homeless individuals into more stable housing.

The program, Home for Good, targets individuals with a history of homelessness as well as high use of city services, such as emergency medical services and the city’s justice system. The program’s director, Eric Glatt, said that by getting those folks into housing combined with case management, the hope is that they can deal with the root cause of the issues that lead them to use those services.

“That could be anything from severe behavioral, medical health issues, to even the challenges that people encounter once they have a criminal record,” he said.

Since July 2019, the program has been in a privately-funded pilot version. Around 20 people are currently in stable housing with case management because of the program, and their use of services is significantly down according to United Way’s report on the program.

“The group of people that we had in the pilot had 72 arrests before they started the program as a cohort,” said Nancy Burke, Housing and Homeless Services Coordinator for the Mayor’s office. “After the program, when we measured it, they had 11.”

She added that group also went from 123 contacts and transports with the Anchorage Fire Department down to 69.

Now the municipality is looking to sign on to the project to expand it up to 150 people. In addition to private philanthropic partners, a memorandum is on the Anchorage Assembly’s September 29th agenda to allocate $4,500,000 for a sole source contract with United Way, but because of the project’s funding model, the city won’t be on the hook for that money until around July 2021, and it may not be for the full amount.

“The first year of this three-year project is funded through philanthropy, the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Mental Health Trust, Premera Blue Cross, and Providence,” Glatt said.

During that first year, data will be collected and sent to a third-party evaluator known as Social Finance, which will evaluate that data against a contract between United Way, Social Finance, and the Municipality. Based on how well United Way meets the terms and goals of the contract, the Municipality will make payments for the second and third year to keep the program going.

“The Municipality pays back the funding only when the outcomes that are desired are achieved,” Burke said.

In total, the project has a proposed budget of $12.75 million. The remaining $8.25 million after the Municipality’s contribution is expected to be covered by federal, state, and philanthropic grants, as well as Medicaid and Indian Health Service Billing.

Glatt added that he expects the program to be cost-effective by reducing strain on the Municipality’s services.

“It actually costs less to provide somebody housing and support services than it does to allow people to continue cycling through emergency rooms, court, jail, police responses in the middle of the night," he said.

On top of getting those chronic users of services into a more stable situation, Burke noted that the project fits within the larger drive for more housing-focused services to decompress the shelters and reduce large groups during the pandemic.

“Housing is always the solution to homelessness,” she said. “But right now, it is also the safest for people to be in small settings with a bubble that can be their circle of a roommate...and apartment building.”

As for the future of the project beyond its three-year scope, that will likely become more clear as the project nears its end.

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