Sunday, August 10, 2014
By CAITLIN SKVORC
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.