Alaska nonprofit, businesses pledge $40M to combat homelessness in Anchorage

A group of Alaska nonprofit and business leaders plan to invest $40 million in a 5-year effort to end homelessness in Anchorage.

Representatives from the Rasmuson Foundation, Providence Health & Services Alaska, Weidner Apartment Homes, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska and the Municipality of Anchorage made the announcement at a press conference Wednesday in Anchorage.

Dean Weidner, chairman and founder of Weidner Apartment Homes, announces his company’s multimillion-dollar pledge toward homelessness prevention programs during a press conference in Anchorage on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (Photo by Kirsten Swann/AlaskaPublic Media)

“Never before in the history of the city or the history of the state has there been an investment or a commitment of this magnitude and with this kind of potential impact,” said Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

Approximately 1,100 people are currently experiencing homelessness in Anchorage, according to data gathered by the municipality. The new $40 million investment will fund supportive housing, transitional programs, shelters and various other services, guided by Anchorage’s plan for ending homelessness in the community.

Safety net programs in Anchorage are currently funded from a variety of sources. While local homeless service providers initially faced more than $12 million in cuts to state funding this year, much of the money was eventually restored, with the final cuts totaling less than $2 million.

Other West Coast cities have seen recent increases in homelessness. Anchorage’s homeless population, meanwhile, has remained relatively stable. That indicates the city has been “extremely successful” finding innovative ways to address the problem, said Rasmuson Foundation CEO Diane Kaplan. It’s time to invest in those solutions, she said.

“It seemed like we had a system and the leadership in place at the local level, at our city level and across the community to be able to address this successfully at this point,” she said. “And we intend to succeed, and we will provide a house for every person that needs it.”

Dean Weidner, founder and chairman of Weidner Apartment homes, said he felt an obligation to be part of the effort.

“I really do think it’s the responsibility of every citizen to support all citizens,” he said. “There is a moral obligation.”

His company is “in an ideal position to help,” he said. It was one of the original supporters of Anchorage’s Path to Independence, a pilot program pairing housing assistance with employment support. With more than 5,000 apartment homes spread throughout the area, Weidner could help house as many as 600 people, the chairman said. The Path to Independence program has already housed more than 60. 

The latest investment could help expand effective programs like that, Weidner said.

Of the $40 million promised, the Rasmuson Foundation pledged $10 million over the course of 3 years, Providence Health & Services Alaska plans to invest $15 million over 5 years, Weidner Apartment Homes pledged $10 million over 5 years and Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska pledged $5 million over 3 years.

“Because Anchorage is a relatively tight, little bit remote community, people pull together here,” Weidner said. “That’s exactly what it takes to solve problems like this.”

Kirsten Swann is a producer and reporter for Alaska Public Media.

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