Whether a result of domestic violence, medical challenges, job loss, or something else, when a family becomes homeless, the consequences expand exponentially for all family members. It’s often difficult for the family to see a way out.
We can help families overcome that sense of hopelessness and tackle the challenges they face. By focusing on the specific needs of each family and tailoring supports for them, maximizing available resources, and coordinating systems and solutions, we can make homelessness a rare, temporary experience and not a chronic way of life.
- Reduce the length of time a family spends homeless.
- Increase the number of families who move directly from emergency shelter to permanent housing.
- Ensure families remain permanently housed for at least two years.
To make this a reality, there are five Strategies being deployed to meet these goals:
- Coordinating in one common system, information on each family and the services they are receiving, regardless of where they first are identified.
- Locating available housing options and supporting the family and landlord to keep the family housed.
- Connecting the family to appropriate available services and centrally managing their changing support needs.
- Providing financial and other supports to maintain the emergency shelter system and to provide rent and move-in assistance when permanent housing is available.
- Ongoing coordinated resource development and community engagement and support.
help when it was needed most
Beginning at an early age, the odds were stacked against both Laurie and Nathan. Despite both of them being born in White Mountain, Alaska, a native community of 200, located 77 miles from Nome on the eastern bank of the Fish River, it wasn’t until they were teenagers and living in Nome that they had a real conversation.
When Nathan was eighteen, he moved from White Mountain to Nome, a city with slightly more opportunity and community – unfortunately, he found a heavy drinking culture and people who weren’t welcoming to outsiders. Depressed, impoverished and often drunk, Nathan made a series of poor decisions: he wrote thirty-five checks that bounced, each defined under the law as a misdemeanor. Each misdemeanor could have meant six months of prison time – or seventeen years total – so Nathan decided to take a deal, a felony charge with a two-year sentencing maximum. What he didn’t realize at the time was that having a felony charge would make getting and keeping a job incredibly difficult.
His criminal record meant jobs in the food service industry were limited and he could no longer be a waiter. He had to learn a new trade and became a carpenter.
Unfortunately, his carpentry career was short-lived: after two and half years he was in a car wreck and broke his back. Things that were once simple carpentry tasks became difficult and painful. To numb the pain, Nathan started drinking again. Life was looking pretty bleak until he met Laurie who has also moved to Nome to escape her family, and they fell in love. They shared a history – their village, absent parents who drank too much, and a desire to feel less lost and alone.
Soon after, they had their first child and they stopped drinking. “I had someone to live with, someone to live for,” Nathan says. “That’s what made the difference for me. Having someone who loved me just as I was.” Things were looking up and the couple was truly happy. Over the next few years, Laurie gave birth to five more healthy children.
Devastatingly, the couple’s woes weren’t over yet. A year ago, they discovered that their eldest daughter Clara (age six) had cancer. In order to provide her with the best medical attention possible, they decided to move to Anchorage. Making ends meet in the city was challenging. Nathan’s skills as a carpenter had become limited due to his injuries and Laurie suffers from schizophrenia. With six children to feed and house, and rising medical costs, the couple was in a very tough spot. They called Alaska 2-1-1 who suggested they try the Salvation Army’s McKinnell House as a temporary fix.
“We needed housing. Somewhere with a roof and a room, somewhere we could call home for a little while,” explains Nathan. “And that’s exactly what it was, our kids were calling it home. And then on top of housing, we couldn’t feed all of our six kids. McKinnell provided us with breakfast and dinner every day, Sundays and holidays included. So all we had to do was get lunch and snacks for the whole month.”
Once at McKinnell, the two were able to find the resources and assistance that would help them find a permanent home quickly. Nathan explains that it was a revelation to him that the resources he and his family needed were there, it was just a matter of knowing where to look. They were able to apply and get accepted for a Tenant-Based Rental Assistance program at a local nonprofit, NeighborWorks, that is paying their rent for a year. Laurie says she is blown away by how beautiful their new home is.
“We have a playground out there, and a private tree house” she says, pointing out at their expansive yard. “And there are two crab apple trees. And it’s all on a big huge lot,” she says, smiling as her son sleeps quietly in her arms.
Right now, Nathan and Laurie are focused on getting their daughter well again. Having a stable home and people to turn to if life becomes difficult to manage is currently making all the difference.
alone in a new city with no place to go
They had just enough savings to cover the security deposit and first and last months’ rent. They also had faith that everything would work out in the end. So when Ron’s disability got bad enough that it became crucial for him to be in a larger city where he would have access to top-notch medical specialists, Ron and Rachel decided to move from their hometown of Juneau to Anchorage. With trepidation, they packed up their belongings and their three teenage sons, having found an affordable apartment online that was being held for them.
When they reached their new home, they made the frightening discovery that the apartment was not what it had seemed online. Dirty and unsafe, the place was not livable and nothing like the photos. Rachel remembers the sinking feeling in her stomach as they drove away from the place they had put their faith in. A single night in a motel cut into their savings. They found themselves confronting the terrible reality of being alone in a new city with no place to go.
They called Alaska 2-1-1, who referred them to Salvation Army’s McKinnell House. “Realizing that a shelter was our family’s only option was mentally very hard,” Ron explained. “I had never been in one before and had a very bad concept about them.” Once at McKinnell though, both reported feeling “extremely humbled and extremely safe.” The family recounted that when they arrived, they received small basic things that they couldn’t afford, but that made such a difference: towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap. And they received classes on financial management and help to set up doctors’ appointments.
Most importantly, they prioritized getting a home. Ron, Rachel and their three sons have now been safely housed for three months and the boys are stable in school. “My kids know that we fully expect them to attend college,” Rachel says, “and I think what they went through this summer was a wake-up call about the importance of getting a good education to make sure nothing like this ever happens to them.”
a chance to rebuild their lives
James has experienced more hardships in his twenty-seven years than most of us ever face. Raised in an abusive home in Southern California, recruited to join a gang as a young teen, James’ early life was marked by violence and trauma. In his late teens, he moved to Alaska and met Dana in a high school math class. They dated past graduation and moved in together soon after. For a few years, life was looking up: he was in love, he had a good job, and two beautiful young children.
Three years ago, then, when a car he was working on collapsed, James’ spine broke in multiple places rendering him unable to work. Suddenly the family’s sole income was Dana’s minimum-wage food service job. James underwent a major surgery to help him walk again and the medical bills began piling up. Neither of them had family members able to help them out and they were evicted from their apartment.
“Calling Alaska 2-1-1 to ask for advice about what to do was extremely difficult. It hurt my pride; I felt like I was failing my family, unable to provide for them.” Alaska 2-1-1 referred the family to McKinnell House. Both Dana and James suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD, but felt safe and comfortable at McKinnell, and the family was able to focus on rebuilding their lives.
They were rapidly moved to stable housing. Staff at McKinnell were able to help Dana and James apply for a grant from NeighborWorks that pays the rent for their apartment for a year as James undergoes a second surgery to help him walk without assistance and pain. The doctors say there’s only a 33% chance of success, but Dana reminds him that he has overcome so much already.
They felt McKinnell House helped them “become the best people we could be. They taught us about kindness.” James explains how even son Milo noticed the change in his parents. “About a week before we were able to secure housing, we were eating drive-through food in our car when Milo pointed out a man who was scrounging through the dumpster. In the past, Dana and I would have bad-talked him, mocking how disgusting that was. This time though, both Dana and I looked at each other and there was this wordless moment where we decided to buy him some food. ’I saw you guys,’ I remember Milo saying after. ‘You were nice to him.’ It made me cry, realizing that we hadn’t been modelling kindness to our kids until that point. Kids have good hearts that they’ll keep if you teach them right.”