HOMELESS... ARE WE DOING ENOUGH? BY cynthia gachupin
Most people spend this time of year enjoying family, friends, holiday parties and cozy nights at home. While temperatures drop outside, we light up our fireplaces and watch holiday movies. We go about our daily lives often forgetting about those who are struggling with maintaining basic necessities. Anchorage has had a growing homelessness problem for decades and it continues to worsen. So my question is, what steps has our city taken to address this problem, and are these steps working?
As the number of homeless people in Anchorage tips over 1,000, Mayor Berkowitz has partnered with the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness (ACEH) and other social service organizations. In 2018, ACEH updated their plan of action to “Anchored Home”. This is a three-year road map (2018-2021) that “invests in prevention & diversion, strengthening the housing and support system, ensuring public health & safety, and bolstering advocacy and funding”. Anchored Home engaged with over 700 community members to gain insight and strategies to address Anchorage’s homelessness. These community members shared concern for connecting homeless people with resources, helping them find meaningful employment, and reducing stigma. Anchored Home has implemented these and many more ideas into their plan of action.
I went to Bean’s Café to get stories and input from the homeless community. I spoke with several people, most seemed to think that the lack of consistent services added to the difficulty of finding permanent housing and employment. Many complained about the waiting period for housing and without a permeant address employment is next to impossible.
Aaron has spent most of his life here in Anchorage. He told me he suffers from anxiety and bipolar disorder. This makes attaining and keeping a job very difficult for him; he explained that he’s had a hard time trying to receive disability due to his debilitating disorders. His disorders have also made it hard to find permanent housing, “no one wants to rent a room to a crazy guy”.
His story highlights the issues many in the homeless community face. Mental health disorders seem to be prevalent in the community and are often not properly treated. Many find the paperwork needed to apply for services difficult, if not impossible, to navigate.
Lauren Thompson has lived in Anchorage for 20 years. He’s originally from Pasadena County and moved here when he was 8 years old. He frequently stands on the busy intersection of Northern Lights and Seward Highway. When asked what happened he replied, “things just went really bad”.
Most of us would like to think this couldn’t happen to us but in reality, all it takes is one life changing event to start a downward spiral into homelessness. This issue is one that effects everyone in the community, and it will take the community’s involvement to ensure that homelessness becomes a rare occurrence.
If you are interested in getting involved with Anchored Home, there are several ways to help. Go to https://anchoragehomeless.org/get-involved/ to see opportunities to donate or volunteer, and for information on attending ACEH meetings. You may also call 343-6371.