As we head into Alaska winter with 2020 nearing an end, it’s tempting to say “good riddance!” Yet good work, even remarkable work, is being done every day by nonprofits and tribal groups, artists and community leaders. Check out some of the highlights below.
— Diane Kaplan, president and CEO, Rasmuson Foundation

In Anchorage, vulnerable people may finally get a “home for good”

A key element of Anchorage’s strategy to solve homelessness is Home for Good, which aims to get 150 of Anchorage’s most visible and vulnerable homeless individuals into stable housing in three years. A pilot that started in July 2019 succeeded in getting 21 individuals housed, and 90% are remaining stable. Now the Anchorage Assembly, on an 11-0 vote in September, has signed on to support expansion of Home for Good with $4.5 million — if key outcomes are met.

It’s Alaska’s first attempt at a “pay for success” private-public partnership. The Foundation and Premera Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Providence Health & Services Alaska, and Alaska Mental Health Trust are providing initial funding of $2 million. If 80% of the participants remain stably housed, the Municipality pays its full commitment. “A formal academic evaluation lets policymakers see under the hood, and spending taxpayer dollars gets explicitly linked to the measured impact on peoples’ lives,” a memorandum to the Anchorage Assembly said.

The Anchorage Museum in 2020 put attention on the issue with the “Houseless” exhibit. One element was “We are all Homeless” by Dallas-based designer Willie Baronet. His installation of signs bought from individuals experiencing homelessness encourages everyone to examine responses.

United Way of Anchorage and the San Francisco-based team of Social Finance Inc. are managing Home for Good. In the pilot group, arrests dropped 85% and shelter stays were down by nearly two-thirds, said Michele Brown, a senior advisor to the United Way (and outgoing president and CEO). Stays at the safety center, for people too inebriated for regular shelters, were down 85%, and ambulance trips, down 44%.

Over the next 12 months, the project will scale up to serve a total of 100 people in permanent, supportive housing, all of whom come from chronic homelessness. Within two years, the number housed should reach 150. Contracts are being finalized with Southcentral Foundation and Alaska Behavioral Health for case management. Landlords are being recruited and relationships are being developed. Challenges remain in securing housing vouchers and long-term agreements with landlords to set aside units for an admittedly challenging population.

In all, about 350 individuals in Anchorage show up repeatedly at shelters and hospital emergency rooms and are in and out of jail. They cost public systems an average of $47,000 a year, each. A recent analysis produced by the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness determined that permanent, supportive housing for single adults is the No. 1 need. Housing along with services tailored for individual challenges including substance misuse, mental illness and traumatic brain injury should create stability for a better life.

A match made for the arts

The Hammer Museum in Haines was a recent recipient of a matching grant to support arts and culture.

The Foundation awarded a third round of matching grants to municipalities that directed federal CARES dollars to support arts and culture organizations. The recipients include:

  • Bethel with $25,000 as a 1-to-1 match for its support of the Bethel Council on the Arts. Among other things, the council organizes the annual Cama-i Dance Festival, which was canceled this year.
  • Haines, $38,179 spread across seven organizations also receiving municipal support. This includes $4,433 for the Hammer Museum — yes, the world’s largest hammer collection is a Haines must-see; $14,776 for the Southeast Alaska Fair, a well-used performance and gallery space; and $11,581 for Haines Sheldon Museum.
  • Homer, $50,000 for six organizations receiving municipal support including $8,647 each for Bunnell Street Arts Gallery, Pratt Museum and the Homer Council on the Arts.

Those awards are on top of previous awards to: Municipality of Anchorage, City of Cordova, Denali Borough, City of Fairbanks, City and Borough of Juneau, City of Kenai, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, City of Kodiak, Petersburg Borough and City of Unalaska.

With support from the Alaska Municipal League and contractor Debra Schnabel, who is a former Haines Borough manager and Assembly member, we’re deeming this experiment a success. Chief of Staff Jeff Baird managed the project.

A conversation for equity and healing

A recent community conversation hosted by the Alaska Black Caucus titled “Let’s talk about race” was framed around a path to racial healing. CEO Diane Kaplan was a panelist, along with former U.S. Sen Mark Begich, Anchorage City Church pastor Kim Patterson, University of Alaska Anchorage psychology professor E.J.R. David, Alaska Native leader Barbara Wáahlaal Gidáak Blake and community planning consultant Thea Agnew Bemben. The Alaska Black Caucus hosts public conversations on Zoom most Sundays.

Artist spotlight: “Ada Blackjack Rising”

Photo credit: Director/ Producer/ Editor/ Co-Writer; Peak 3

Two Individual Artist Award recipients, Don Rearden (2014 and 2020) and Holly Mititquq Nordlum (2013 and 2020), were on the team that created a short film about Ada Blackjack, an Iñupiaq woman who was the sole survivor of a disastrous 1921 Arctic expedition. “Ada Blackjack’s story is the tale the world needs right now,” says Rearden, who wrote the screenplay of “Ada Blackjack Rising” based on a book by Jennifer Niven. “We all feel isolated and trapped on an inescapable island right now amidst this pandemic, and Ada shows us a path through the darkness.” Nordlum, one of the producers, sees Ada as a role model. “We are all Ada! Her struggle is ours, surviving in the harshest climate against all odds and still, we are here.” The film premiered on Indigenous Peoples Day.

AK Can Do relief grants approach $2 million

A third round of grant awards was made in October from AK Can Do, the statewide coronavirus relief fund initiated by Rasmuson Foundation. The partnership between The Alaska Community Foundation and United Way of Anchorage, with support from Rasmuson Foundation and many other donors, announced that an additional 62 organizations had received support totaling $440,000. That brings the total to nearly $2 million counting grants to nonprofits and support that went directly to individuals and families for rent, utilities and other essentials. Recent grantees include Fairbanks Community Food Bank, Kenai Peninsula Community Care Center and Petersburg Children’s Center. A list of all the 2020 AK Can Do grantees is found here. A fourth round of awards is anticipated in January 2021.

Prize-winning communications

Our partners did it again! Three projects connected to Rasmuson Foundation recently were honored with statewide awards by the Public Relations Society of America, Alaska chapter. Element Agency won best website for designing and developing the digital version of our Annual Letter to Alaska celebrating our 65th year. For its volunteer work on AK Can Do, the statewide coronavirus relief fund, Spawn Ideas was recognized with the Choice Award, representing the favorite of Alaskans accredited in public relations. Recover Alaska’s Safe, Healthy Anchorage campaign coalescing support for the new alcohol tax received the Grand Aurora Award — the year’s top campaign — for Yuit Communications and Northern Compass Group.

Promotion on Program Team

Chris Perez has been promoted from senior program officer to director of programs, recognizing his role in providing additional support and guidance to the Program Team. He has been with the Foundation 12 years, managing a broad range of grants and initiatives while directing program-related investments.