Community gives input on Anchorage plan to end homelessness

The Municipality is developing a new community plan to end homelessness in Anchorage. During a listening session held Wednesday evening, about 20 people gathered to discuss possible solutions to the decades old problem.

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Darrel Hess was the former and only homeless coordinator for the Municipality of Anchorage from 2009 to 2012. He said during that time he read through 40 years of studies and plans about homelessness in the city, and end results were typically the same. They suggested that agencies try to solve it with little cost to the local government. Hess, speaking as a citizen, said that needs to change.

“I’m hoping with the next plan there is a robust commitment from local government. Without that commitment, the plan will once again not be nearly as successful as it could be.”

Hess suggested that the municipality could do things like speed up the permitting process or adjust some zoning rules to enable affordable housing developments.

Brian Shelton-Kelley from Anchorage Neighborworks agreed with these suggestions. He said developers need incentives to build property for low income households. But Shelton-Kelley said the problem is two-fold. It costs at least $500 just to maintain, insure and keep the lights on for a rental unit — that’s too much for people on very small, fixed incomes to pay. And even if properties could be subsidized and built, community members have to be open to projects in their areas.

“While there’s general overall support for affordable housing, when we go to communities or neighborhoods to suggest a project or suggest that a project will be located on a particular site, no one wants it in their backyard.”

Ron Alleva owns property by the Brother Francis Shelter and Beans Cafe. He said those services and others hurt businesses, enable substance abuse, and cause more harm than good.

“It’s a disaster economically. It’s a disaster health-wise. You wouldn’t know the things I put up with — unsanitary conditions.”

Carmen Springer is the Executive Director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and she chaired the listening session. She said the new 5-year community plan will incorporate the input of everyone who is impacted by homelessness. For her, that’s everyone in Anchorage.

“We all interact with the homeless community everyday, whether its because we know someone who may be part of the community or whether we’re trying to decide how it fits with the larger framework of the Anchorage community.”

Springer says the plan aims to solve the problem even when agencies are receiving less and less funding.

“So if we can come together as a community and look at the services that are needed and how we can provide them in a more strategic way, so that it’s more economically feasible and it’s reaching all of the people with the appropriate services at the appropriate time, then it’s going to be better for everybody.”

Some participants suggested consolidating services across agencies to make them more efficient.

The plan committee will hold a large summit in the early spring to discuss their ideas and present the data they gathered, including results from a recently completed community-wide survey. The new plan will come into effect this summer.

Anne Hillman is the healthy communities editor at Alaska Public Media and a host of Hometown, Alaska. Reach her at Read more about Anne here.

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