For the homeless and advocates, worries over line item vetoes intensify

Published: Jul. 10, 2019 at 9:51 PM AKDT
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In most Anchorage neighborhoods, you'll find at-risk residents, some more visible than others - even if they don't feel that way.

"It's like they don't care about us," said Agnes Crawford, who volunteers at Bean's Cafe but spends most nights on the streets. "I'm just nervous and scared - where are people going to sleep? - and some of them are killed on the streets."

Like Crawford, many of those who wander the streets during the day are without a roof over their heads for the night. Some homeless service providers say added cuts outlined in Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget vetoes will only exacerbate the squeeze felt by them and those looking to help Alaska's homeless.

"We understand that times are tough and changes need to be made," said Lisa Sauder of Bean's Cafe, "but we can't do it on the backs of the most vulnerable people."

For Sauder's group, which is open to anyone and everyone for breakfast and lunch each day, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts have already hit hard, but Bean's may now be forced to slash more than that. Dependent upon donations and other outside support, Bean's has had to pare down or eliminate long-term services such as the mailroom, job training and other programs that help prepare clients for the real world. Sauder said she's not only worried the group will have to make more cuts, but that other organizations being affected will in turn severely affect her clients, too. According to her, Bean's Cafe is already seeing double the number it usually does.

The same goes for other agencies meant to help Anchorage's at-risk population: Brother Francis Shelter, already down 150 beds, is now closed for use during the day. Lisa Aquino of Catholic Social Services, which runs the shelter, recently said cuts to her group's budget will result in not only the elimination of outreach and prep programs but also trigger a 48 percent increase in homelessness in Anchorage.

The Rural Alaska Community Action Program, which operates across the state, is considering soon shuttering two of its five Anchorage facilities, which house a total of 350 tenants, including 150 children.

"The consequences for us are pretty significant," said RuralCAP's Patrick Anderson, who has said that 20 percent of the group's statewide programs are on the chopping block with the governor's vetoes in place. "They don't have many other options. We're probably one of the last options in Anchorage for someone who is homeless. And when they come to us, the services we provide give them an opportunity to try to change the trajectory they'd been on that put them into homelessness."

The governor has continued to defend the vetoes, and funding could still be addressed through the state's capital budget or a supplemental budget, but a capital budget isn't officially on the agenda for the second special session. However, Dunleavy has said he would add it to an official call to the session once lawmakers resolve where they will officially conduct it.

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