Homer Alaska - Business

Story last updated at 5:11 PM on Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Homeless programs get boost

The Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — More than two dozen homeless programs in Alaska have won renewed federal funding totaling $3.5 million to keep people off the streets in 2012.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Tuesday the money from the agency's "Continuum of Care" program will be paid as quickly as possible.

HUD also is reviewing applications for new projects that could receive funding early next year, spokesman Lee Jones said Tuesday.

Recipients in Alaska said the money is a crucial funding source to deal with the problem in the state, where the homeless population can top 6,000. Nationally, there are an estimated 636,000 homeless people.

In Anchorage, Alaska's biggest city, the homeless population can be as high as 3,000.

Suzi Pearson, chair of the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, says a statewide survey in January counted 6,460 people who fit the homeless profile, including those in shelters.

The survey counted 697 people deemed chronic substance abusers and 478 with severe mental illness.

But it's inaccurate to think that only street inebriates are homeless, according to Pearson, executive director of the Abused Women's Aid in Crisis, a nonprofit providing services to domestic violence victims, including a 52-bed shelter in Anchorage. AWAIC is in line to receive more than $107,000 through HUD's Continuum of Care program. The money will be used to get domestic violence victims into permanent housing by helping with security deposits and other startup costs.

The homeless survey also counted 384 victims of domestic violence and 1,223 households with dependent children.

Some low-income people also are pushed out of their homes by events that are catastrophic to them, such as paying for medical emergencies or car problems instead of making the rent, Pearson said.

"The face of homelessness is not the chronic inebriate. You're seeing a number of homeless families," she said. "We would want people to understand that you're looking at children and families not able to meet their income needs, so they end up homeless."