Treating people who experience homelessness like people could help solve the problem. That was one of the solutions discussed by a group of community members who met on Saturday for the Northern Voices on Homelessness conference in Anchorage.
The three-hour-long conference was a brainstorming session that brought together social service agencies, people who have experienced homelessness and others who are concerned about the issue. People teleconferenced in from Nome, Juneau, and Kodiak as well.
UAA Anthropology professor Sally Carraher helped coordinate the event. She says the idea was to look at homelessness from many different perspectives and together think of possible solutions.
“So we want to do a network that connects and services and agencies and real people and the public and connects them so we’re all speaking a shared language,” she explains.
The group includes people from northern Canada and throughout Alaska as well. Carraher says one thing that makes homelessness unique in the north is the sense that everyone should take care of themselves.
“And on the one hand I think that resiliency and that strength is really awesome about Alaska and northern Canada and Northerners in general. But I think it’s also kind of a barrier when trying to think about a problem like homelessness. You can’t expect individuals to each pull themselves out of this problem.”
So the community needs to remember that homelessness is just a circumstance and could happen to anyone, says Kaya Wolfe, who lived in shelters as a child and has couch surfed as an adult.
“These are people on the street, they’re not scenery, they are human beings. And I want to talk about their successes, I want to talk about their struggles, and I want to talk about hope for the future.”
Wolfe and other attendees spoke about reducing the stigma attached to being homeless so that people can more openly seek help.
Robert Alexie is a resident of Karluk Manor, Anchorage’s Housing First facility. He says that social service agencies and the public need to stop seeing people who experience homelessness as statistics and instead seem them as humans who need encouragement.
“You know, you want to say anything to someone, say ‘Hey, go up to Karluk Manor. Use the resources.’ A lot of people don’t want to use the resources.”
Alexie says not using resources is often an issue of pride but being directed to Karluk Manor is what saved him and his health. He says the staff at Karluk sought him out for housing and helped connect him to medical services.
“After almost 20 years on crutches, I’m walking without them. And it’s nice,” he pauses, thinking of words. “That’s what Karluk gave me, and there’s no way I can repay them. There’s no way.”
Housing First provides individuals with permanent housing without requiring them to seek treatment. Many experts see it as a successful solution for ending chronic homelessness.
More than fifty people attended the conference. Conference coordinators say this is only the beginning of the conversation.