Update on Housing First in Anchorage, AK


By Max R. Weller

I’ve blogged about Karluk Manor before; that’s the Housing First facility in Anchorage, AK which opened in December, 2011 — and serves as a model of sorts for 1175 Lee Hill here in Boulder, CO.

The Alaska Dispatch News has an interesting series on chronic alcoholics on the streets in Anchorage, and the last installment is The search for solutions. Quoting from it here:

At the 48-unit Karluk Manor, street alcoholics in Anchorage can move in exactly as they are, without a requirement to quit drinking. The facility seeks to find and house the most vulnerable among a group of homeless veterans that police, fire and public safety authorities refer to as the “Top 200” – top in volume of public resources consumed in the form of trips to the sleep-off center, jail, emergency rooms and the shelters.

Karluk Manor is Anchorage’s first “Housing First” project, an approach that’s gaining traction nationwide.

Among the core principles of Housing First is that housing is a basic human right, not a reward. Proponents say when a person leaves the chaos of the streets, the stability of a home is more likely to make life changes possible. “Harm reduction” is another tenet of the philosophy: In practice, it means trying to get people to make incrementally healthier changes, such as switching, perhaps, from liquor to beer.

Initial results of a two-year study of Karluk Manor by the Institute for  Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage suggest that people who live at Karluk are drinking less alcohol, less frequently, than before they moved in, said David Driscoll, the director of the institute.

Researchers found that the Karluk residents also spend more time doing activities that require concentration such as crossword puzzles, or physical activity. Public safety costs per tenant also plummeted, according to the study, from an average combined cost to the Anchorage Police Department, the Anchorage Fire Department and the Anchorage Safety Patrol of more than $3,500 per person to just more than $1,500.

Jail and shelter nights were also reduced, according to the preliminary data.

Nationally, studies of other projects have shown that Housing First, pioneered in Los Angeles and New York more than 20 years ago, stabilizes clients’ lives and saves money, Driscoll said.

The model is gaining acceptance even among federal agencies. In 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs adopted the approach for its homeless programs.

> More funny math which does NOT take into account the millions of dollars spent to convert the former Red Roof Inn into Karluk Manor.

Continuing excerpt:

Expect to see more such projects in Anchorage: Housing First is now the model preferred by federal funders such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Detractors say Karluk Manor offers no real incentive for alcoholics to change their ways. Some have questioned the morality of providing severely addicted people a place to drink, likening the project to a “hospice” or even “assisted suicide.”

> The Homeless Philosopher certainly agrees with the paragraph immediately above. One resident reports that he drinks less now, only one fifth of vodka a day. He’s still killing himself, maybe at a slower pace (and maybe not), but killing himself nonetheless.

Excerpt concludes:

Karluk Manor’s manager Colleen Ackerman said it is understood that most people who live there won’t stop drinking. Frequently, they have been through every other program available without success.

Karluk uses a system that ranks applicants on their vulnerability. The people who score the highest get the apartments. Some of the people who live at Karluk have needed to move into assisted living because of alcoholism-related dementia, Ackerman said.

For some, Karluk will be the last place they live. Since the facility opened, 11 residents have died — some inside the facility, and some elsewhere.

“This is really the end of the road for a lot of them, sadly,” she said.

> 11 residents dead in a little more than 3 years, since this Housing First facility opened.

Comment by J.H. following the ADN article online:

“I’m glad they didn’t have this free housing back when I was a drunk and starting to lose everything. I might never have quit. To have a free apartment and still be allowed to keep drinking . . . It would have been a dream come true back then. A dream from Satan, that is. But I was lucky. No one enabled me in that manner.”


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