Berkowitz unveils new plan to end homelessness in Anchorage

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced the basics of his action plan to end homelessness in Anchorage during a press conference at Sitka Place. Hillman/KSKA
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz announced the basics of his action plan to end homelessness in Anchorage during a press conference at Sitka Place. Hillman/KSKA

Anchorage’s mayor announced the city’s new homelessness action plan on Tuesday. It will focus on providing 300 permanent housing units in the next three years for adults who are living on the street and in camps.

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Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says the first step is coordinating with resource providers, landlords, and people who need housing to find and fill available units across the city and eventually to build more. The effort will mirror successful plans from places like Utah. It includes a list of names of individuals to make sure people are getting the help they need. Berkowitz said that list also humanizes the problem.

“It’s very easy when you deal with policy to be anonymous and statistical and speak in abstraction,” he said during a press conference, surrounded by service providers. “But when you identify individuals by name it becomes more intimate and more personal and it does that very quickly. If we’re looking for a house for the name of someone we know, it’s going to make it easier for that to happen.”

The municipality will also have a landlord liaison who will work directly with private landlords in case there are any problems with the tenants who are placed there.

Berkowitz did not provide any specific mechanisms for funding the plan or a budget but he says he wants to use money from agencies like the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. He also emphasized that housing people saves money because they are no longer using resources like emergency services. Berkowitz says it’s not just a money issue, it’s a moral issue.

“It’s also important for the psyche of our city. If we want to be a city that’s vibrant and vital, we want to make sure everyone who lives here in safe and secure.”

This is not the first plan to end homelessness in Anchorage, but Mental Health Trust Authority CEO Jeff Jessee says this one is different.

“Plans are no better than the people charged with carrying them out. And perhaps the most important thing about this effort is the leadership the municipality is showing in pulling together the funders, the providers, and as the mayor says, the entire community to find ways to address this issue.”

Two elements of the plan are already in play. A municipal grant helped RurAL CAP open 56 new housing first units near Merrill Field at Sitka Place, formerly called Safe Harbor-Merrill Field. The Downtown Soup Kitchen will open at night as an emergency shelter for women starting at the end of the month.