Aug 10 2014

Homeless Prevention Partners in the Valley

Sunday, August 10, 2014



MAT-SU – The Neighbor to Neighbor Grant Collaboration has grown to encompass eight different non-profits working together to support those in danger of becoming homeless.

In the last three years alone, the collaboration has received over $2.2 million in assistance grants. John Rozzi, CEO of Valley Charities, Inc. said that their ability to “turn over a new leaf” for the economically disadvantaged as a group started with a grassroots movement over 60 years ago.

“Our history is very unique in that it was started through garage sales from some concerned citizens in the Wasilla area wanting to help people,” Rozzi said.

For the past three years, Neighbor to Neighbor has received a Homeless Assistance Program (HAP) grant every July through the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, as funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In the first year, the collaboration was awarded $550,000, which increased to $770,550 the next year, and approximately $895,000 this year, in addition to a $66,000 emergency solutions grant.

“Funds are awarded competitively to agencies (not private individuals) that provide emergency or transitional housing and/or services to prevent homelessness or rapidly re-house those who have been displaced,” reads the HAP page of the Finance Corporation’s website.

The responsibility has fallen to Valley Charities to distribute the funding, but other Valley organizations are doing the same work for local people in need.

Turn A Leaf, the thrift store associated with Valley Charities, Inc., is joined by Access Alaska, Alaska Family Services, Blood-N-Fire Ministries, Daybreak, Inc., Family Promise Mat-Su, Salvation Army of Mat-Su and My House Mat-Su as non-profits in the movement to prevent homelessness and assist families and individuals for whom it seems to be “too late.”

“We all have the same clients, so it only makes sense that we’re working together to continue to serve them better and more efficiently,” Rozzi said.

To determine who gets how much of the grant, Rozzi said that longevity of the organization and the agency’s demand — based on how many clients they get — are the primary determining factors.

As for the increase in dollar amount of the grants, it seems to be more the result of increased awareness in the community and accessibility of the relevant organizations than an increase in need or situations of homelessness. The fact that all the Valley agencies are working together to find the program that best fits client needs even outside of work with the HAP grant also signifies their appeal to the potentially homeless.

“Collaborations are being emphasized across the state and nationally, but in the Valley we are leading the way and showing how collaborations work,” Rozzi said. “We have to because of the geographical mass that we’re dealing with.”

Of the Neighbor to Neighbor agencies, there are currently three located in Palmer, four in Wasilla and one in Meadow Lakes. Valley Charities also has an itinerant case manager headquartering at Willow Creek United Methodist Church twice a month and now the Sunshine Community Health Center once a month to save people as far north as Trapper Creek time and money.

Access Alaska, one of the recipients of a chunk of the HAP grants, is typically geared toward seniors and people with disabilities, but the grant does not just support that particular demographic, Brian Galloway said.

“We have an open-door policy that says any resident of the Mat-Su Valley can receive assistance through this grant,” Galloway said.

Karey Gaston of Blood-N-Fire Ministries pointed out that the collaboration works just as much with companies such as Enstar and MEA, as well as individual landlords when a client needs assistance with utility payments, one of the most common issues.

“It’s been a huge impact on the Valley to have (us as) that type of resource,” Gaston said. “We get so many phone calls with people saying ‘I didn’t even know you were out here to be able to do this.’ They just get excited.”

Blood-N-Fire started with just a food pantry, but now offers hotel vouchers, part-time wages and placement and arrearage services with help from the grant.

As a ministry, one might think that non-religious people would hesitate to seek help there, but Gaston said that has not been the case.

“It doesn’t affect how we operate,” she said. “I have bibles and information in the front where (clients) come in and they can read it, but I don’t give them anything they don’t want.”

One of the biggest reasons for the success of the collaboration, everyone said, is the ability to create sustainability. While food and clothing giveaways serve the immediate needs of the homeless – a necessary service – the collaboration is able to keep families on their feet long enough for them to maintain stable housing and improve their quality of life.

“It’s cheaper to help somebody stay in their home than it is to help them get into a new home because you’ve got first month’s rent, the security deposit, etc.” Rozzi said.

Still, there are those who come to Neighbor to Neighbor agencies after the fact.

David Wilson, who works for Alaska Family Services, said that a lot of their clients – domestic violence and substance abuse victims – seem to start with even less than perhaps the typical homeless person or family.

“There’s a huge barrier for our clients because they’re basically starting from nothing,” Wilson said.

Yet the Neighbor to Neighbor Collaboration has provided over 3,200 homeless prevention services since July 2012, ranging from eviction prevention with a few rent payments, utility assistance and leased transitional housing.  For more information about homelessness prevention and how to get help, contact any of the agencies mentioned above or visit

Mar 05 2014

‘Homeless Connect’ serves about 200

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WASILLA — Perhaps it’s a sign of progress that slightly fewer people received help at this year than last at the annual Mat-Su Valley Project Homeless Connect event.

About 200 people registered as homeless at the fourth annual Homeless Connect event Jan. 29 at the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla. That’s eight fewer than last year when 208 Valley residents were served.

New this year, Homeless Connect volunteers also were stationed at kiosks at Palmer and Wasilla Carrs stores and at the Palmer Three Bears to extend the reach of the event, said Laurie Kari, director of Family Promise Mat-Su.

The Mat-Su event Wednesday was one of five Homeless Connect events around the state this week, according to Scott Ciambor, director of the Alaska Coalition of Housing and Homelessness. Anchorage, Kodiak, Ketchikan and Sitka also organized Homeless Connect events.

The idea is to create an event that is a one-stop shop for a wide variety of resources that might help people who are homeless or on the verge of losing housing, he said.

Beyond connecting people to the more than 40 various agencies and nonprofits at the event, Ciambor said the secondary purpose is to get a count of the number of homeless people in the Valley. He said that number is used by the Housing and Urban Development to make funding decisions.

“The Mat-Su Project is fantastic because of the level of support from the whole community,” Ciambor said. “There’s a lot of compassion in this room today.”

Dave Rose, director of the Mat-Su Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, said some of the help offered Wednesday was immediate, like providing a hot meal, clothing, haircuts, massages, food, veterans services and some medical care.

“We added several new agencies this year,” he said.

Rose said the state also was on-hand offering driver licensing and birth certificate services. He said lack of ID is often a barrier for homeless people.

Even just getting to the event is difficult for many people, he said.

To break through that barrier, MASCOT, Sunshine Clinic, Chickaloon and Knik tribal councils also helped provide free transportation to the Menard center in Wasilla.

Rose said more than 60 people used the service this year, about twice the number from last year.

Every year the ripples of kindness reach farther into the community, he said.

A partial sum of this kind tally includes feeding lunch to 175 people; giving haircuts to between 65 and 70 people; giving away two tons of clothing; and sharing $2,000 in high protein foods and fresh fruit with people whose food budgets likely doesn’t include such luxuries.

One of the biggest supports for the past four years has been the city of Wasilla, Rose said.

“They believe in it so much, the city of Wasilla donated the whole Menard center again this year,” he said.

MY House president Michelle Overstreet said she brought 15 of the homeless youth served by that organization to experience the love and connect with needed services.

She said her kids were able to access some services, such as counseling screening, that ordinarily had conflicted with their schedules.

Representatives from the Palmer and Wasilla senior centers were there, too, connecting information with people.

Wasilla Area Seniors Inc. representatives said they were there to help connect people with senior housing and to share information about the senior center and the meals, fitness and other services it offers.

“We’re encouraging people to come on down,” said Claudia Dolfi, development and activity coordinator at the Wasilla Senior Center.

She said getting involved at the center is a great way to prevent the feeling of isolation many seniors experience. And it’s not just for seniors, Dolfi said. Volunteers of all ages frequent the center.

“There’s something there for everyone,” she said.

Sue Ann Smith, office manager at Mat-Su Senior Services, the senior center in Palmer, was also on hand with Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend applications, Santa Cop and Heroes registration forms, help with Medicare and Medicaid and filing for a new drug plan, and information about the heating assistance program.

That the total number of people helped this year dropped slightly may be the fault of John Rozzi, chief executive officer for Valley Charities Inc. That group received a grant to help prevent homelessness, which has proven a very deft tool in the effort, he said.

Since the grant was received July 1, 2012, more than 1,500 people have received help through a consortium of agencies, including Access Alaska; Alaska Family Services; BloodNFire Ministries; Daybreak Inc.; Family Promise Mat-Su; Salvation Army; and Valley Charities.

Rozzi said the grant funds could go directly to help with propane, utilities or to help prevent evictions. He said it’s much more cost-effective to focus on preventing homelessness than trying to intervene after someone is homeless.

“You can keep someone in a home for a fraction of what it would cause to re-house them,” Rozzi said.

Contact Heather A. Resz at 352-2268 or

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