Nancy Burke Talks Housing First Strategies for Bethel's Homeless

Jun 7, 2017

Anchorage Homelessness Housing Coordinator Nancy Burke discusses funding options for a Housing First approach to homelessness at a presentation on June 6, 2017 in Bethel, Alaska.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

Yesterday, the Bethel Community Services Foundation hosted Anchorage-based Homelessness Housing Coordinator Nancy Burke to speak in Bethel on new approaches for housing Bethel’s homeless.


Burke works with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to put together programs under what's called the "Housing First" model.


“There've been several projects across the state that provide housing to people with disabilities, or with addictions, or mental illness and help them become successful in the community,” said Burke. “But we haven’t had one community that’s taken this as a larger model for all of the citizens, and so that’s the work that Anchorage is doing now.”


Housing First aims to get the homeless housed. It does this by creating access to affordable housing, creating access to appropriate social services, and creating access to work with the end goal of housing stability and an end to homelessness.


In the past, social services have focused on providing mental health and addiction treatment before helping people secure adequate housing, but Burke said that it was more important for people to be safe each night before they look at participating in treatment and other services.


“So, we had a number of people across the country who weren’t making it in our service programs, and our experts in the field began looking at ways to improve those programs. And it turns out helping someone get stable and have housing is a better intervention to begin with and so this movement, Housing First, began,” said Burke.


Michelle DeWitt, Executive Director of the Bethel Community Services Foundation, said that this conversation on housing strategies for Bethel is purely exploratory at this point.


“Because our community has never had a project, people like me are aware that it exists but don’t know the details or the ins and outs of, ‘How are projects like this funded?’ ‘How do they operate?’ 'What are the different models and possibilities?” DeWitt said.


DeWitt is hopeful that Bethel will consider a multitude of possibilities to address its homelessness issue.


“I think what makes a small community unique is relationship and resources,” said DeWitt. “So, how to leverage the connectedness we all have to each other. The relationships we all have to each other to make a project happen.”


A key part of this will be to identify what housing gaps Bethel has, said DeWitt. And then there is the matter of how to pay for services to support the homeless.


But for now, they're just familiarizing and elevating Bethel’s knowledge on what’s available and might be possible for the YK Delta region.