There’s a lot of discussion underway about the highly visible face of street homelessness in Anchorage. There’s another, more hidden and pernicious face; and that’s family homelessness.
On Aug. 31 of this year, there were 87 known families with a combined 290 people on the Homeless Management Information System list. Sometimes a family becomes homeless when a parent and children flee domestic violence. Sometimes an unexpected medical emergency swamps a fragile household. And sometimes families experience homelessness because of a layoff, an accident, substance use, or just plain bad luck.
Each family is unique in how they came to be homeless and what supports will empower them to self-sufficiency.
Rapid rehousing is key – evidence suggests that the longer someone experiences homelessness, the greater the likelihood of developing physical and mental health problems. For children, experiencing homelessness can have a tremendous impact on education, health, sense of safety and overall development. After all, homework starts with home. Housing is a necessary bedrock for a stable life. Housing is the base from which a family can gather strength and begin to solve any number of problems.
United Way of Anchorage, Catholic Social Services, Salvation Army, RurAL CAP, Covenant House Alaska, and Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness joined hands to rapidly rehouse these families, setting three goals:
• 100 percent of families are moved into permanent housing within 30 days;
• 80 percent of families maintain housing after financial support ends;
• 70 percent of families maintain housing 12 months after case management ends.
So far, fifty-nine families including 82 adults and 125 children have moved into permanent housing. Ninety-five percent of those families were housed within 30 days. Some common barriers to swift re-housing were criminal history, evictions, bad credit, limited earning potential, domestic violence, substance abuse, and/or custody issues.
The families were diverse in race, circumstance, and vulnerability, running the gamut from those with incomes who just needed some temporary help, to those struggling with domestic violence, child-custody issues and substance abuse. Families receive rent or financial assistance up to six months, as needed. Case managers work with the families to tailor personalized pathways to self-sufficiency through connections to steady work, transportation, child-care and legal services in the community. Two-thirds of the families remained in permanent housing after financial assistance ended. Short of the goal, but still good.
We’re learning as we go; because substance abuse was a major factor for some of the families who did not remain housed, case managers are working to improve screening and tailor services accordingly.
Rapid Rehousing has a number of financial investors, including Providence Health and Services Alaska, the Anchorage Home Builders Association, the Alaska Community Foundation; and you, United Way donors and partner companies.
By my calculation, for $750,000 more, we can bring family homelessness in Anchorage to functional zero, which means that the number of families experiencing homelessness each month, is fewer than the monthly availability of housing and supports.
If you want to be a partner in this work, you can give online and direct your gift to our work in homelessness. Or call our resource development staff at 907-263-3842.
Housing families and achieving functional zero in Anchorage isn’t a wonkese turn of phrase, it’s a community state of grace.