Grant to Catholic Social Services could dramatically reduce family homelessness

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) Alaska’s Catholic Social Services and the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness believe the city may be close to achieving “functional zero” on family homelessness.

“Basically what that means is that there’s fewer people coming in to homelessness than there are going out,” said Catholic Social Services Executive Director Lisa Aquino.

Aquino said there are currently around 92 families within Anchorage’s homeless system.

“That number has pretty much stayed the same over the past years,” she said.

Which isn’t to say it’s the same 92 families. According to Aquino, current rehousing initiatives in Anchorage serve about 60 families a year, and thanks to a recently-announced $5 million grant from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s Day 1 Families Fund, homeless service providers say soon they may pass that 92-family threshold.

“This, I believe, will allow us to either get darn close to, or solve family homelessness,” said Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness Executive Director Jasmine Boyle. “In partnership with two other local initiatives that we have in our community.”

Aquino is the president of the Coalition’s board of directors. Many other homelessness service providers serve on the board as well, including Municipal Homeless Service Coordinator Nancy Burke, and Lisa Sauder, the executive director of Beans Cafe.

The grant is for Catholic Social Services, but because of the cooperative nature of homeless service providers in Anchorage, Aquino believes this will benefit the community as a whole.

“We are one of the largest providers of homelessness services, but we could never do this alone,” Aquino said.

CSS regularly teams up with the Coalition to End Homelessness, Salvation Army, United Way, and many other service providers around the city to deliver a coordinated service to Anchorage’s homeless population.

“What I’ve seen firsthand is that the intent is for Catholic Social Services to take the lead in convening partners in the community so that we’re building systems to address family homelessness,” Boyle said.

The grant will also fund a pilot “diversion” program, which would seek to prevent at-risk families from entering the homeless system in the first place.

“Most people call because they need temporary, one-time rental assistance, or have a small, finite, tangible need that if addressed quickly, they get back on their feet and never come back to our services,” Boyle said.

The grant is a one-time funding source, and Aquino says there are concerns over continued funding for the programs. Especially after state budget reductions, later reversedthreatened to dramatically reduce funding for CSS. She hopes the programs funded by this grant will encourage more in the future.

“The more that we can demonstrate its success, and show partners in the community how much this helps, then I think that we'll be able to find other funding to support it in an ongoing way,” she said.

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