A multi-pronged municipal plan seeks to keep people from entering the shelter system, find housing

The Municipality of Anchorage is using CARES Act money to help homeless shelters.
The Municipality of Anchorage is using CARES Act money to help homeless shelters.(KTUU)
Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 7:45 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As homeless shelters in Anchorage reach max capacity night after night, the municipality is working on reducing the crowds and hopefully, keeping and getting people in homes of their own.

The Municipality of Anchorage said that the efforts to tackle homelessness from different angles are multi-pronged, and draw from several resources, with the main focus being supporting residents financially so that they can retain their housing as well as getting those in shelters into housing. This not only creates a more stable environment but reduces the strain on the homeless services system.

“We can hopefully pull a lot of the individuals that are experiencing homelessness - but maybe have a job and just have reduced hours, lost housing or something like that - we can quickly pull those people out (of shelters),” said Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s Chief of Staff Jason Bockenstedt, “and get them back into some sort of housing with rapid rehousing money.”

Of federal CARES Act money provided to Alaska, $1 million has already been dedicated specifically to rental, mortgage and housing support in Anchorage. That helps keep people out of shelters, but also off the streets.

Still, homelessness remains a crisis in Anchorage, with shelters such as the pop-up at the Sullivan Arena supporting more than 375 people most nights. That’s max capacity, which the shelter has seen for the last several weeks straight.

So, the city has to attack it from several different angles. With keeping people in their own homes, moving those in shelters off the streets, and making other assistance available to those in need as best as possible, Bockenstedt said the efforts should prove worth it this winter.

“All of these things, when you bring them together," he said, “I think begin to provide capacity necessary to accommodate everyone we know will need shelter this winter but also as we get into next year.”

Smaller but still signification changes and additions are also underway. Inside the Sullivan Arena, for example, a makeshift clinic has been set up so that people can get medical treatment before the onset of an emergency.

“The majority of our citizens are one significant medical emergency away from housing insecurity,” said Katelyn Sheehan of Bean’s Cafe. “No one is above that. And it is so critical that we ensure all of our citizens have access to this very basic care.”

The steps may seem slow and steady, but they could make a difference, to the point of saving lives over the coming months.

“Hopefully with everything that we’re doing,” Bockenstedt said, “with the rapid rehousing, with the Sullivan, how we’re working with shelter providers, we’ll have enough capacity to handle whatever increase there might be.”

For CARES Act money requirements to be met and used for proposed shelters, such as the one in the works at the old Alaska Club on Thursday, people would have to be served by December 30. Bockenstedt said that instead, money for shelters will be coming from the general fund, with CARES Act money going toward items that can be completed by that deadline.

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