We’ve all been heartbroken to see people living in tents and makeshift shelters on the streets, in city parks, wherever there’s a spot in urban woods. In Anchorage, all-too-visible struggles of people experiencing homelessness weighed heavily on our chairman, Ed Rasmuson. Do something, he told Foundation staff.
So we are doing some things. We’ve long supported developments across Alaska to add affordable housing for working people, seniors, teachers, health aides and more. This time, we were trying to align funding and partners for something far more complex: a solution to homelessness.
Four years after the first concrete steps, significant progress has been made. The Foundation so far has designated more than $6 million for housing, shelters, planning, and demonstration projects. An improved system collects solid data on who is experiencing homelessness. Business leaders and public officials are engaged. Expect to see additional support in the coming year for rural housing serving those who have been homeless.
And we have the tangible result that Chairman Ed wished for. Just days before his death early this year, we let him know a building for the most vulnerable was becoming reality. A deal to purchase the Sockeye Inn in Midtown Anchorage closed March 30. The building on Fireweed Lane will provide 61 rooms for individuals who need a place to rest, recover and address ongoing or unmet medical needs. Some are in wheelchairs. Some are blind. The facility and support services will help individuals move toward permanent housing and gets them out of the Sullivan Arena mass shelter, which was not only crowded but relied on outdoor porta potties for restrooms, even in Alaska winter.
Other recent developments:
- The Bronson administration and the Anchorage Assembly agreed on a comprehensive path to move people from the Sullivan Arena. Private funders and the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness are partners in the plan framed around specialized facilities to address individual needs. Besides 303 Fireweed Lane, the plan includes a hotel that will become workforce and supportive housing, a Salvation Army treatment facility, and a purpose-built shelter in East Anchorage for up to 150 single adults with surge capacity for 50 more. The shelter will include a navigation center to connect clients to housing and services.
- The Anchorage Homelessness Leadership Council launched a public awareness campaign on housing and homelessness. The group brings together business, health care and community leaders and urges collaboration, advocacy and financial supports to solve homelessness.
- The new Providence Alaska House will create supportive housing for 51 elders with significant health issues who are experiencing homelessness. Construction begins this summer. The Foundation committed $2 million for that project.
- The former Bean’s Café is being renovated to serve as a welcoming daytime navigation center for individuals experiencing homelessness. People will be able to meet immediate needs and take advantage of services to find housing and address issues.
Anchorage Homelessness Leadership Council Members
- Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson (co-chair)
- Bryan Butcher, CEO, Alaska Housing Finance Corp.
- Greg Cerbana, vice president, Weidner Apartment Homes
- Greg Deal, regional president, Wells Fargo Bank
- Erec Isaacson, president, ConocoPhillips Alaska
- Diane Kaplan, president and CEO, Rasmuson Foundation
- Paul Landes, vice president, GCI
- Sophie Minich, president and CEO, Cook Inlet Region Inc., (co-chair in 2022)
- Bill Popp, president and CEO, Anchorage Economic Development Corp.
- Aaron Schutt, president and CEO, Doyon Ltd.
- Matt Schultz, pastor, First Presbyterian Church
- Preston Simmons, CEO, Providence Alaska, (co-chair in 2021)
- Steve Williams, CEO, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
Funding partnership for new shelters, engagement centers and services
Public and private dollars seeded a fund at The Alaska Community Foundation that now totals $13 million and growing.
- Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority
- Calista Corp.
- Chugach Alaska Corp.
- Doyon Ltd.
- Municipality of Anchorage
- Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska
- Providence Alaska
- Rasmuson Foundation
- Weidner Apartment Homes