Breaking Ground at Supportive Housing for Homeless Elders
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson (left) and community partners symbolically break ground at Providence Alaska House on May 17, 2022.
“The built projects are just starting to come up,” says Preston Simmons, regional CEO for Providence Alaska. Nearly five years since Anchorage businesses, charities, and government agencies came together to draft the Anchored Home strategic plan to end homelessness in the city, the first of several new facilities is becoming reality.
A Simple Roof
Providence Alaska House is designed as permanent supportive housing for senior citizens who have nowhere else to live. The four-story building has studio apartments for fifty-one residents, as well as gathering areas, a computer lab, laundry, medical exam rooms, a case management office, and space for on-site wrap-around service providers.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held this week at the site, across the street from Providence St. Elias Specialty Hospital, a 59-bed long-term acute care facility located in a secluded neighborhood near Tudor Road and C Street.
The land was previously the site of a transitional care center, which Providence relocated to Boniface Parkway and Debarr Road in east Anchorage. Providence is donating the vacant lot as part of the Anchored Home initiative.
“Hopefully this is the first of several phases,” Simmons says.
Providence is covering the operating cost for six of the housing units. The other forty-five will be paid by vouchers funded through state and federal sources. Residents will be referred to the facility through existing social service channels.
When completed in August 2023, Providence Alaska House will be operated jointly by Southcentral Foundation and its sister nonprofit, Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC).
The importance of supportive housing became clear to CITC CEO Gloria O’Neill late last year, when her sister died. “My sister, who found herself on the streets, who had severe mental illness and addiction, really struggled,” O’Neill told attendees at the ceremony. Her sister finally found stable housing in the last five years of her life. “It was through her supportive community that when she passed, she passed with dignity,” O’Neill said.
Targeting the senior demographic for housing support ought to have an immediate impact. David Rittenberg of Catholic Social Services observed that 60 percent of guests at Brother Francis Shelter are older than age 60. Some individuals might have been trapped for years in a cycle of need. A simple roof can break that cycle.
Steve Williams, CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, explains, “Permanent supportive housing is an evidence-based intervention that disrupts the hospital-correctional-homelessness cycle and allows individuals to remain in the community, stably housed, and have the opportunity to engage in the supportive services that are so critical to their success.”
Welcome to the Neighborhood
A rendering of Providence Alaska House, designed with a capacity for fifty-one elders.
Shelters for the homeless, whether short term or permanent, are often resisted by neighbors. Providence Alaska House has a tract of quiet single-family homes across 48th Avenue, yet the Midtown Community Council welcomes the facility. Council president Al Tamagni Sr. attended the groundbreaking to wish the project well.
“Our community works best when we come together to solve problems,” said Downtown Anchorage Assembly Member Chris Constant. “That I follow the mayor here is evidence, I hope, that people of different beliefs and backgrounds can come together and work toward common ground.”
Though Constant often clashes with Mayor Dave Bronson at Assembly meetings, on Providence Alaska House they are united. “Data shows that residents of permanent supportive housing utilize taxpayer-funded emergency services much less than people who are houseless,” Bronson says. “Instead of cycling through expensive emergency services like our jails and hospitals, residents of this facility will receive the support they need in a safe environment. That will help free up first responders to better serve the public.”
Bronson and the Anchorage Assembly recently marked the purchase of the Sockeye Inn at Fireweed Lane and C Street, which Catholic Social Services will operate to house the medically vulnerable. The mayor and assembly also reached agreement on a 200-bed shelter for single adults and families, to be constructed near Tudor and Elmore Roads.
“One shovel of turned earth is way better than all the promises in a room,” Constant says.
Other project partners include Cook Inlet Housing Authority, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, Weidner Apartment Homes, and the Rasmuson Foundation. Davis Constructors and Engineers has been contracted to build Providence Alaska House.
“We know that access to stable housing is closely tied to better health outcomes,” Simmons says. “Providing our most vulnerable neighbors with a safe place to call home is key to addressing our community’s greatest challenges.”