The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness (ACEH) $1.5 million as part of a national grant competition.

Anchorage was one of roughly 150 communities to apply for the grant, also known as the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project. Competition was stiff; only 10 cities were awarded the money.

ACEH includes 39 local organizations, many of which work directly with homeless populations. One of them, Covenant House, is a lead agency in the coalition, according to its executive director, Alison Kear.

“I feel like I won the lottery,” she said, adding that ACEH worked for 18 months to perfect their application for the grant, which was submitted on Nov. 30 of last year.

She said the money will be used to take a new approach to preventing teen homelessness and helping youth who do not have a permanent place to stay.

“This isn’t designed to fund what exists. It’s designed to fund what doesn’t exist and we know will work,” Kear said.

Specifically, that means taking a mobile approach to community outreach. Instead of having to go to a place like Covenant House for resources, Kear wants them to become more available elsewhere in the community.

“While this building is great, we want kids to leave this space and we want them to feel the support they had while in it,” she said.

However, that is just one example of the innovation ACEH will try to accomplish with the funds, which are designed to last two years. Starting in April, they will spend six months planning how to use the money with the help of a youth advisory board, which consists of teens who have been homeless, according to a press release from ACEH. If the program proves successful after the two-year period, funding will be renewed.

Another organization involved in ACEH is Bean’s Café. Its executive director, Lisa Sauder, said a main goal is to prevent young people from becoming Bean’s clients in the future.

“Frankly, if we don’t catch them and get them secure and educated and on the right track, then we’re going to have them for clients for the next 20 or 30 years at Bean’s Café,” Sauder said.

Kear said the application process was a collaborative effort between dozens of Anchorage organizations. She said she wants that coordination to continue as the funds become available.

“I’m just so excited for Anchorage and what this means for the community,” Kear said.

KTVA 11’s Eric Ruble can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.