Access: The TAC Blog
FAIRBANKS IS THE REGIONAL HUB for interior Alaska, an area larger than the state of Texas. The city’s need for supportive housing is amplified by its remote rural and frontier location and extreme arctic conditions. Although the number of people experiencing homelessness in Fairbanks — approximately 250 people at any given time — seems small compared to what other major U.S. cities report, the impact of homelessness in this community is an important factor: Even during bouts of -50° Fahrenheit temperatures, Fairbanks routinely has more than 50 people trying to survive in local encampments. There have been times when dramatic temperature changes caught encampment residents off guard, resulting in numerous cold weather injuries and even some deaths.
Since 2014, TAC has worked with state and local partners on strategies to create permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing opportunities for Alaskans. Last December, TAC was invited to facilitate the Fairbanks Symposium on Homelessness, with the goal of generating momentum toward a community planning strategy for tackling homelessness in some of the most diverse geography and climate in the United States. As in other cities and towns across the country, both the cost of housing and a lack of available units present significant challenges. But the "must do" attitude of the local Fairbanks community has already resulted in remarkable progress, and can serve as a beacon for those working in other rural communities to prevent and end homelessness.
The Fairbanks Housing and Homeless Coalition is leading the charge, representing more than 20 local organizations that provide shelter, support, and opportunities for community members struggling with housing barriers. Since the Symposium, the city’s housing and homelessness coordinator has brought local agencies together for more planning. Collectively, the group has contributed an estimated $58,360 worth of in-kind donations to initiate a program that can quickly connect families and individuals experiencing homelessness to permanent, private market housing through intensive case management, applicable employment services, and tapering financial support. Just this month, the Alaska Mental Health Trust announced that it will fully fund this local rapid re-housing program!
The Fairbanks Rescue Mission, which is already implementing rapid re-housing for Veterans through a federal Supportive Services for Veteran Families grant, has been designated as the lead agency for the award. The funding provided by the Trust will allow the new program to hire two full-time staff members and assist approximately forty families a year with housing, case management, and landlord support. The Trust has given a further boost to efforts in the region by providing funding for the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness to hire a rural housing planner who can help build local coalitions in rural Alaska and improve the region’s readiness to apply for funding to meet its needs.
Fairbanks’ challenging environmental conditions and extremely rural setting make providing effective and targeted services to the community’s most vulnerable individuals a high priority. Fortunately, the community’s determination to make life better for its least advantaged members is just what is needed.
VA Awards TAC a New Supportive Services for Veteran Families Contract
THROUGH THE SUPPORTIVE SERVICES FOR VETERAN FAMILIES PROGRAM, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helps service providers across the country to strengthen the housing stability and independent living skills of very low-income veteran families occupying or transitioning to permanent housing. TAC is honored to have been awarded a new five-year grant from the VA to continue and deepen the technical assistance we have provided to SSVF grantees since the program was launched in 2011. Joining us on the TA team are our longtime partners Abt Associates, the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Center for Capacity Building, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Policy Research Associates, Inc., and Atlas Research.
Nearly 400 SSVF grants fund nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives across the country. TAC coordinates and provides specialized TA to all these grantees through in-person trainings, regional gatherings, program site visits, carefully designed products and tools, one-on-one consultation, webinars, and online group learning. By focusing on crisis intervention and housing stability, targeting practices to ensure effective delivery of resources, and using permanent supportive housing to improve both housing stability and behavioral health outcomes, we help communities develop system-level capacity to meet the unique needs of veterans and their families.
TAC Staff in Action
Ashley Mann-McLellan, TAC Associate, led community-wide rapid re-housing (RRH) trainings in Maricopa County, AZ and Orange County, CA (where she also led an accompanying executive-level training), kicking off efforts to use RRH as a system-wide strategy; Ashley also presented on decision-making and accountability frameworks at a Seattle CoC summit on governance, strategic planning, and racial equity, and gave a workshop on landlord engagement at this month's Housing First Partners conference in Boulder, CO; Executive Director Kevin Martone wrote about the importance of new affordable housing resources in the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors newsletter, drawing on a widely read Access blog post by Senior Associate Gina Schaak and Senior Policy Advisor Lisa Sloane; Lisa was also invited to present on "Housing First and Permanent Supportive Housing 101" to the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department; at a March event, Associate Douglas Tetrault co-presented with the New Hampshire Interagency Council on Homelessness at a discussion on the state's efforts - supported by TAC since 2016 - to end veteran homelessness.
Providers Gather to Focus on Rapid Re-Housing
At the end of October, 800 service providers and Continuum of Care leaders focused on making rapid re-housing (RRH) a key component in their efforts to prevent and end homelessness came together for two intensive days of workshops, presentations, and teamwork. Two Rapid Re-Housing Institutes were held a few days apart in Duluth, GA and Los Angeles, CA, coordinated by TAC in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs' Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Abt Associates, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Department of Labor were also represented at the Institutes.
At each gathering, a Practice Track offered service practitioners direct training in the core components of RRH and effective service delivery strategies. Concurrently, a System Track designed for leaders with planning and implementation responsibilities covered community-wide practices relevant to RRH as a primary response to homelessness. Along with working sessions, Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance, and Elisha Harig-Blaine, Principal Housing Associate for the National League of Cities, gave plenary addresses - and for a little extra fun, groups competed in rapid re-housing Mad Libs and bingo! For more highlights, check out #RRHI2017.
TAC Staff in Action
Senior Policy Advisor Francine Arienti and Senior Associate Gina Schaak traveled to Hickory, NC to train providers on assessing people's needs and preferences before helping them move into supportive housing; Senior Associate Jon Delman presented on "Improving Work Conditions for Peer Specialists" at the annual gathering of the International Association of Peer Supporters; Jon also joined Associate Jenn Ingles, Senior Associate Melany Mondello, and Senior Consultants John O'Brien and Jim Yates in Montgomery, AL to help launch a statewide strategic housing initiative; In October, Managing Director Marie Herb and consultant Jake Mihalak facilitated the first on-site meeting of the Violence Against Women Act - Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (VAWA-HOPWA) Demonstration Program initiative; Senior Consultant Sherry Lerch presented to the National Coalition of State Housing Agencies on "The Supportive Housing/Health Care Nexus"; Executive Director Kevin Martone brought a national perspective to a recent article in Mental Health Weekly on New York state's efforts to fund supportive housing; Senior Consultant John O'Brien gave the opening presentation at the National Dialogues on Behavioral Health conference, and spoke on "Strategies for Outcomes and Value-Based Payment" at an American Public Health Association roundtable on systems transformation; and Associates Phillip Allen, Lauren Knott, Ashley Mann-McLellan, and Douglas Tetrault, Senior Associates Melany Mondello, Gina Schaak, and Liz Stewart, consultant Naomi Sweitzer, TA & Training Coordinator Kyia Watkins, Federal Contracts Assistant Kim Wilder, and Housing Intern Madison Tallant all hit the road to put on the first Rapid Re-Housing Institutes in Duluth, GA and Los Angeles, CA (see above).