Published September 30, 2020, by Mike Abbott et al.
It’s news to no one in Anchorage that homelessness is one of our most complex challenges. The homelessness response system serves 8,000 people each year. And on any given night, more than 1,000 people lack a safe and stable place to live. Of those, a small minority experience persistent homelessness — cycling through shelters, emergency rooms, jails, and living unsheltered in parks, bus stops, and doorways.
About 350 people in Anchorage are caught in this cycle. They have complex underlying conditions that require significant support. Dozens of these 350 are in Anchorage’s emergency shelters, such as Sullivan Arena, and others struggle with chronic health conditions that remain insufficiently treated. Living in these conditions can be life-threatening in normal times. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the need to expand a combination of support services and housing to offer a long-term solution is more urgent than ever.
For this reason, we are proud to be investing $3 million to help launch Home for Good, a first-of-its-kind project for Anchorage that combines a proven, data-driven solution with an innovative, taxpayer-accountable financing model. And it is already working.
Home for Good is a public-private partnership that will provide support services and housing for 150 people in Anchorage experiencing persistent homelessness and living with acute, disabling conditions. Led by the United Way of Anchorage, the Municipality of Anchorage, and national nonprofit Social Finance, the project brings together more than 20 partner organizations to scale up an effective intervention — supportive housing — while funding its ongoing operation based on the success of the program.
What sets supportive housing apart is that it creates a stable environment where people with complex issues can address their needs through robust, wrap-around services — while developing the habits and skills of independent living. Project participants will have access to needed behavioral health and medical treatment while receiving case management and job training. They will ultimately be expected to contribute up to 30% of their income to cover rent. As one Home for Good case manager put it, “No one gets sober or heals on the street, and the people Home for Good works with cannot stay off the street, out of jail, or away from the emergency room without help.”
What further sets this project apart is the financing structure. We have contributed enough start-up funding to implement the project for about a year, and the Municipality of Anchorage will pay to sustain it for an additional two years if the project achieves agreed-upon outcomes, as measured by a third-party evaluator. This “Pay for Success” model changes the paradigm for government funding: Rather than paying for services that may not work, taxpayer dollars are only spent to pay for successful outcomes — in this case, a pathway to stable and sustained housing. If the project underperforms, the Municipality pays less or nothing at all.
This is the value proposition of the Pay for Success model in a nutshell: rather than pay to create a new government program and hope for the best, the Municipality only pays to the extent that the project meets its goals. Meanwhile, meeting those goals is made possible by the dedicated work of community partners scaling up their services: Alaska Behavioral Health, Hope Community Partnership, RurAL CAP, and Southcentral Foundation, to name just a few.
This financing model shifts the risk from taxpayers to the up-front investors — us. It’s an investment we are confident in because we’re already seeing results.
In the summer of 2019, Home for Good launched a pilot project. One year later, participants had experienced 85% fewer arrests, 85% fewer trips to the Anchorage Safety Center, 63% fewer shelter stays, and 44% fewer trips to hospital emergency departments. Of the 21 people housed during the first year of the pilot, 19 remained stably housed and were continuing to work with case managers.
The road to a stable life for people struggling with multiple, significant challenges is neither short nor straight. The full consequences of extreme trauma, untreated severe mental illness, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, physical disabilities, or addiction don’t develop overnight and won’t end overnight. Lasting improvement is a long journey. And the data we now have confirms we are on the right path.
We’re proud and excited to build on the pilot’s promise. Our support for Home for Good is an expression of accountable philanthropy, wise public policy, and simple decency.
Mike Abbott is the Chief Executive Officer of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority. Paul Hollie leads Premera Blue Cross’s Social Impact Program. Diane Kaplan is President and Chief Executive Officer of Rasmuson Foundation. Preston M. Simmons, D.Sc., FACHE, is the Chief Executive Officer of Providence Health and Services Alaska.