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Federal Experts to Help with Anchorage Homelessness

Begich asks for intervention as crisis grows in city

With more than 20 deaths on the streets of Anchorage in or around the homeless community over the past several months, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has secured the assistance of the federal agency which deals with homelessness. At the senator's request, two of the agency's top officials plan to travel to Anchorage next month to help local leaders address the tragic problem.

"I am pleased to learn some of the country's leading experts on homelessness are coming to Anchorage to try to help with the growing crisis around homelessness and death in public places," Begich said. "Perhaps with local, state and federal officials working together, a clear plan of action can move forward to safeguard this population."

Concerned by the extraordinary number of Alaskans dying on the streets, Begich in September wrote a letter to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) seeking assistance. In a response earlier this month, the agency called Anchorage's homeless situation "alarming" and said USICH Deputy Director Jennifer Ho and Regional Homelessness Coordinator for Region 10, Paul Carlson, will travel to Anchorage Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 to meet with local officials.

"The goal of this meeting is much along the lines you suggest, which is to foster collaboration of funding, policy and services. We intend to suggest that the State of Alaska align its policies and practices with the new Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, 'Opening Doors'," USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe wrote to Begich. "Your letter will serve to push us harder to strengthen unified governance of effort and program performance."

While recognizing the good work of local homeless coalitions, Begich said more progress could made through the coordination of local, state and federal assets and plans. More than 20 people have died on the streets of Anchorage over the past year, many of them homeless, and violence around homeless camps continues to escalate as was illustrated this past weekend by the homicide of a non-homeless man in an Anchorage homeless camp. Additionally, Begich pointed out in his September letter to Poppe, the dearth of affordable housing is an acute issue given construction costs and limitations on available land.

"Alaskans are ready to mobilize for action to prevent and end homelessness. I am asking for federal assistance to help build a single-system of care, a single door so people who are experiencing homelessness can receive services under one system," Begich said in his letter. "Currently the system is spread out with different silos and different case managers and funding streams."

According to the Municipality of Anchorage, there are an estimated 1,700 people homeless each night in Anchorage, of which over 400 are families with children. The number of chronic inebriates in the overall estimate is 300-400.

In 2004, while serving as Mayor of Anchorage, Begich appointed a task force to address long-term solutions for Anchorage's homeless. The task force ultimately issued a  report with a 10-year strategy for dealing with homelessness focused on "housing first" - a philosophy that assumes assistance for any other aspect of an individuals' life will be more successful if he/she has safe and affordable housing.

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