Anchorage volunteers aid officials in annual homeless count
Homelessness in Anchorage is a visible problem; seen on street corners, at shelters and in the woods. Officials with the Municipality of Anchorage say collecting data can make a huge difference.
On Tuesday, the Anchorage Police Department and social service workers, along with 150 volunteers, came together for the January 2019 homeless count. The event has been going on for nearly a decade. Usually, the count happens at 2 a.m., but this year organizers changed the time to 6 p.m.
Nancy Burke, the housing and homeless services coordinator for Mayor Berkowitz's office, said the switch to an evening count happened because it gives them more opportunity to reach and engage people when they're awake and willing to participate in the survey.
The count is required nationally for every community across the country. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) looks at the data to determine how much HUD assistance Anchorage needs for the Continuum Care program.
Burke said communities take the week to identify people using shelter services or who don't have any shelter to try to get an accurate reading of where people are.
The 2018 snapshot of the homeless population in Anchorage was 1,094 people — slightly under the 2017 tally of 1,128 people identified as homeless. Burke says on average, between 800–900 adults are counted each year. The average number of people trying to sleep outdoors the last three to four years is about 100.
More volunteers came together to participate in the count, Burke said.
"We've seen the community come out because they're interested in the data. They want to know that the count is a real thing," Burke said. "I think we're increasing the community's trust that this is one data point of many that we can use to help us plan for our needs."
Jasmine Khan, the executive director for Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, said the survey is about more than data — it's about the people who are being counted.
"It allows us to establish human connection with people that often times feel they've been left outside of society," Khan said.
Groups handed out bags of supplies and free transportation tickets to the Anchorage Project Homeless Connect, an event the following day that brought service providers, government agencies and the community.
Burke said the official 2019 count won't be out until later this spring.
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