New data reveals an increase in Anchorage's homeless population

The scene of an abandoned campsite along the Chester Creek greenbelt. To clear illegal camp sites, police this year are using an app that locates homeless camps based on tips from Anchorage residents.
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(App users, to view the interactive data visualization, follow this link).

Data is sourced from the Municipality of Anchorage.

According to Nancy Burke, homeless and housing coordinator for Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, the municipality's year-to-year methodology differs drastically.

In 2017, numbers were compiled over a week-long period in August. Plus additional resources (police, social service providers and contact shelters) were allotted to help with the count.

In 2016, numbers were were compiled on a single Point-in-Time count in August.

And in previous years, the Point-in-Time count occurred on a single day in the winter season.

A 100 percent increase in only one year – that's what the latest numbers reveal about Anchorage's homeless population.

On Wednesday, the city presented data to the Anchorage Assembly's committee on homelessness.

The data revealed that Anchorage's homeless population went from 644 people, in August 2016, to 1,263 people for the count compiled in August of this year.

However, the inflated number does not automatically mean the population increased that much.

"There are people who are good at hiding and camping," explained Nancy Burke, homeless and housing coordinator for Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. "This year, we found them."

Burke also said the methodology from year-to-year was drastically different.

In August of 2016, the number of homeless people were compiled on a single day count. But this year, these numbers were compiled over a week-long summer period. Plus, some additional resources were made available for 2017's count.

"This year, we used the police, social service providers, who do camp outreach, and contacted shelters and the soup kitchens," she said. "So we could get exact numbers of people who were homeless in the community."

In previous years, Burke said volunteers fanned out across the community – using a grid and GIS mapping – in order to see where they would encounter camps and homeless populations.

In 2017, Anchorage's shelters have the wintertime capacity to assist 515 homeless people, currently. But if enough service, food and transportation entities are made available, then shelters may be able to help a total of 650 homeless – this factors in all 135 other possible sites and beds.

While being able to provide assistance to a total of 650 homeless people would have covered 2016's count, services are expected to still be short in 2017 by 613 people.

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