Path to Independence gives homeless a chance at new life

Anna Grace, right, talks about her art with Catholic Social Services Case Manager Jessie...
Anna Grace, right, talks about her art with Catholic Social Services Case Manager Jessie Talivaa outside of her new home at Park Plaza. (KTUU)
Published: Dec. 9, 2018 at 2:34 PM AKST
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People experiencing homelessness in Anchorage are getting a chance to obtain permanent housing through a community coalition project called Path to Independence.

The program’s funding comes from more than 20 local businesses and organizations, with a goal of rapidly and permanently re-housing individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

Catholic Social Services, a non-profit agency serving as the Social Services Arm of the Diocese of Anchorage, has spearheaded the project. CSS Executive Director Lisa Aquino says Path to Independence opened its doors to its first recipient, Anna Grace Peters, in early October.

“I think Anna’s on the way to success,” Aquino said. “I believe she has a bright future ahead of her.”

Peters was reported to have been living on the streets of Anchorage, utilizing services at the Brother Francis Shelter and Beans Café, when she was approached by a case manager from Catholic Social Services.

“Jessie, the case manager at Brother Francis, kind of approached me about the program,” Peters said. “He said it was a really good idea to get me on the program.”

Path to Independence would provide housing and pay the bills, helping to connect her with employment opportunities, until Peters was able to get a job and support herself permanently. She moved into an apartment at Park Plaza, owned and operated by Weidner Apartment Homes, on Oct. 5.

She says her experience thus far with the program has been overwhelming at times – but only because she doesn’t want to fail the people who are giving her the opportunity to succeed.

“Having people depend on me and feeling like I failed is kind of all there has been,” she said. “So it’s kind of really stressful, but I’m happy I decided to join the program.”

Peters says she experienced homelessness for about a year before joining Path to Independence. Knowing what it’s like to live on the streets in the winter time, she says being able to stay warm is one of the best perks of having her own place.

“I don’t have to always have my feet be cold because I’m always walking outside,” Peters said.

She added that the program makes her feel like a human being while also helping to transform stigmatic perceptions of people experiencing homelessness.

“I think it’s really helpful when you have a positive outlook on people when you’re trying to help them,” she said. “To be able to see them as just normal, regular people - just down on their luck.”

Peters might refer to herself as a normal, regular person, but her artistic talent separates her as being exceptional. Her passion is developing characters and creatures that exist in fantasy and science-fiction worlds of her own creation.

“I’ve done oils, acrylic, watercolors," she said. "I am currently, because I can’t afford any of that, a digital painter."

Peters spoke to Channel 2 in quiet and reserved tones, with an obvious spark of passion in her eye for the art she creates. And that is one of the very first things that prompted CSS Case Manager Jessie Talivaa to recommend her for Path to Independence.

They looked at countless pieces of her work over the course of an hour, connecting and developing a friendship through Talivaa’s fascination with Peters’ talent.

“That’s probably one of my fondest memories with Anna Grace, is having that time looking at all of her artwork,” Talivaa said. “She pulled it up and my mouth just dropped. I was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’”

When asked if she could see herself producing artwork for a living, she responded, “Someday."

Wells Fargo Vice President of Community Relations Judith Crotty says Path to Independence funders, including all Alaska Native Corporations, Cook Inlet Housing Authority, Weidner Apartment Homes and more, have raised $700,000 for the rapid re-housing program.

Wells Fargo awarded CSS and Path to Independence a priority market grant for $100,000, and have started a gift card program to provide recipients with a little gift money when they move into their new homes.

Lisa Aquino with CSS says Path to Independence is looking to house seven more families before the start of 2019, a worthy goal of the holiday season. The program will ultimately provide housing for 40 individuals and families experiencing homelessness.