Alaska organizations that keep people from living on the streets have been without partial funding since July. With a state capital budget passed, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation said it will dole out checks to charities that have been trying to keep Alaskans off the streets. But those checks will only go so far.
Wrangell, a small southeast town of 2,300, has no homeless shelter. So the local Salvation Army often steps in to offer assistance for people short on rent to keep folks off the street.
Last year, about 20 Wrangell families took advantage of this. But Jennifer Bates, who runs the local branch, said she’s been having to say no for the first time in four years.
“I know personally I’ve taken at least five phone calls where I wasn’t able to help people with utilities or rental,” she said. “I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many my husband has done.”
That’s because the funding was exhausted by April. They were expecting relief at the beginning of the July 1 fiscal year but that didn’t happen.
Bates said she told her clients to make the rent — even if that meant cutting back on groceries.
“Decide to pay your rent and we will try to help you feed your family, because that’s what we’re known for,” she said.
The reason the well remained dry after July was because of the state’s fiscal uncertainty. Gov. Mike Dunleavy had line-item vetoed around $400 million from the operating budget and the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation was in a holding pattern until the Legislature and governor could sort that all out.
Wrangell’s Salvation Army is one of dozens of providers of homeless services that receives funding through the Homeless Assistance Program. The governor eliminated $3.6 million — half of its overall state funding — through a line-item veto in the capital budget.
Alaska Housing Finance Corporation says that’ll translate to 20 percent less for homeless assistance grants like Wrangell’s Salvation Army chapter.
It’s happening statewide. A Kenai Peninsula nonprofit, Love in the Name of Christ, said it’s already been stretched too thin. And now?
“I can say that that 20% reduction will definitely have an impact,” said Leslie Rohr, the executive director of the religious charity.
Rohr said that means instead of cash assistance for rent, they’ve already been handing out tents and sleeping bags.
“So that people have at least some shelter, but then just say ‘we don’t have the financial means right now for deposits, rent deposits,’” she said.
Alaska Housing Finance Corporation spokeswoman Stacy Barnes said there’s $1.6 million less for its Homeless Assistance Program.
“Shelters will not be able to provide the same level of service that they could with a historic funding,” she said. “Nonetheless, the doors remain open,”
The Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness had urged lawmakers and the governor to spare social programs designed to keep people sheltered. Executive Director Brian Wilson said he’s not optimistic about the coming winter.
“It’s just going to lead to increases of homelessness and have a negative effect for our most vulnerable populations,” he said.
He said while homelessness providers will still be mostly funded, homeless policy and support organizations, like his, will see much larger cuts. Wilson’s organization won’t see any money from the Homeless Assistance Program, which makes up nearly 65 percent of the nonprofit’s budget.
For the Soldotna-based Love INC charity, this grant money can’t come soon enough. And Leslie Rohr worried about how long it’ll last.
“I would suspect that next year, or even this coming year, we’ll be out of funds much earlier than (April-May),” she said. “And that will actually maybe still put us in that late winter cold season, that we will be running low on funds.”