In keeping with the Anchorage 10 Year Plan on Homelessness (2005) and Mayor Sullivan’s Homeless Leadership Team (2009), additional units continue to be added to our supported housing stock to address the increases in homelessness and to reduce the demand on our shelter systems. Anchorage has seen a marked reduction in deaths due to cold weather exposure since the addition of supported housing units in the community.
Although the Anchorage 10 Year Plan on Homelessness called for 500 new units of affordable housing in Anchorage, there is some thought that Anchorage needs additional special needs housing units on top of the general needs. The Municipality of Anchorage Health Department has estimated the number of people who require supportive services in order to remain in housing around 200. This estimate was based on a review of people who were utilizing emergency levels of services – TB Clinic, detox/sleep-off center, API and hospital emergency rooms at the time of planning for the first large scale supported housing program, Karluk Manor, a 46 unit housing program designed to address the needs of people with multiple health, mental health and substance use conditions.
Refining our knowledge of the need
In September 2011, Anchorage participated in a national campaign (100,000 Homes Campaign) to assess the needs of people residing in camps who have disabilities and to develop mechanisms to housing these people. The assessment, conducted by the Anchorage Homeless Coalition and led by Anchorage Community Mental Health Services, is a clinical tool that was developed to identify people with multiple indicators of risk of death on the street: major medical condition plus a mental health condition and addictions. Research and practice demonstrate that people who have these three conditions are much more vulnerable to dying on the streets.
Data from the vulnerability assessment revealed that the population of people in camps is a population of many people with disabilities who are not able to maintain housing and traditional supportive services on a “walk in” clinic basis and whom our social service system is failing. More supportive services need to be arranged for this population and they need to happen on the site where the person is living. This concept of combining housing first was developed by Seattle, WA (Downtown Emergency Services Center) and New York, NY (Pathways to Housing).
The following represents some findings from the vulnerability index:
- 355 people surveyed who were living in the shelter or camps
- 161 people were determined “vulnerable” and had the 3 major health/mental health/substance use conditions that indicated likely early death on the street.
- 130 people surveyed stated they have or were observed having signs of a mental illness.
- 97 people reported a brain injury
Understanding the economic challenges
Homelessness and having a disability place people at an economic disadvantage. Without subsidized housing in Anchorage, it is very hard to maintain a stable residence. With very few housing units available in Anchorage (currently there is less than a 3% vacancy rate) people with additional challenges are not the ones that landlords will generally rent a unit.
Note: SSI is a program under Social Security for people who have a disability