An Anchorage without homelessness? Alaskans share how the city might look someday

Published: Jan. 25, 2018 at 5:33 PM AKST
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What would the state's largest city look like without any more homelessness? It's a big question with a not-so simple answer.

That was the focus of a community think tank forum at the University of Alaska Anchorage Thursday afternoon. "For us, success is making homelessness as rare and as brief as possible," said Laura Brown with United Way.

Brown gave a brief presentation about how the Municipality of Anchorage, the Coalition to End Homelessness, and United Way are working together to connect homeless Alaskans to resources in an effort to get families and individuals into more stable and sustainable lifestyles. "Right now we are at functional zero. Functional zero means everyone who wants a place to stay has a place to stay," she said

Brown then asked the nearly 100 participants to sit in groups and explain how they think Anchorage would look if there were no homeless population.

One group said Anchorage would have healthier communities and more connections among neighbors. Another participant pictured improved sidewalks and more bike paths.

Several Alaskans said education would become a primary focus if families were no longer worried about shelter and basic necessities. One participant said the change would be noticeable in public spaces, "fewer children at the public library wearing lots and lots of layers because they're wearing all of the clothes they have."

While many people acknowledge organizations are working on the issue of homelessness, there isn't exactly a fast fix.

Nancy Burke, homeless and housing coordinator for the city, told Channel 2 that Anchorage is meeting the mayor's goal of housing 100 people per year and has reduced visits to the sleep-off center – a possible sign that fewer vulnerable people are living on the street.

While a city without a transient community is difficult for some to see; if the think tank forum is any indicator, many Alaskans seem hopeful it's possible.