Anchorage receives $1.3 million grant to revise homeless services

The city of Anchorage is getting a new pool of money to address homelessness. The mayor’s office announced today a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development. The money will fund research into how to overhaul city services for residents of Anchorage and the Mat-Su valley dealing with chronic homelessness and frequent problems with the criminal justice system.

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Mayor Berkowitz, center, with his new Homelessness Coordinator, Nancy Burke, standing to his right during Wednesday's press conference. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)
Mayor Berkowitz, center, with his Homelessness Coordinator, Nancy Burke, standing to his right. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Nancy Burke is the city’s Homeless Coordinator, and says municipal leaders will study how to implement what’s called a “Pay for Success” model.

“Basically, in really easy terms it’s borrowing money to make a change in a system while you still have the other existing commitments out there,” Burke said. “So you’re borrowing money to do the new thing to prove it up while you’re still doing the old thing.”

The old thing, in this case, is the city’s current model for providing services to people living on the streets. That, Burke said, involves costs to hospitals, the state, and taxpayers, with inadequate results. The ‘new thing’ is a switch to a housing first model which prioritizes getting people into stable long-term shelter and providing wrap-around services.

“If we can house people and show that it reduces those investments, then there will be a savings at the end of the day,” Burke said.

The money itself will go to consultants working on a plan for phased implementation and financing. The goal is to ultimately figure out a way to issue a bond to pay for the change-over, which Burke described as an investment.

“It’s a way of looking at using and leveraging finances for social service outcomes rather than business outcomes that you would usually see,” Burke said.

Burke said she hopes the fully structured plan will be ready within two years.