Frequently Asked Questions About Homelessness
Q: Are there really homeless Alaskans in the winter?
A: Sadly, homelessness is not a “weather permitting” situation. Homeless persons have been found in winter sleeping under the post office in Bethel, in a tarp-covered skiff in Ketchikan, and in “tent cities” in Anchorage. School district officials have recorded entire families living in their cars during the coldest winter months. No matter where you go, if you don’t have money for lodging, you can be “out in the cold!”
Q: How many homeless Alaskans are there?
A: Conservative estimates (based on “point-in-time” surveys conducted every January) indicate that on any given day, there are approximately 3,000 homeless persons in Alaska.
Q: Don’t most homeless have mental or substance abuse problems?
A: While persons struggling with mental health issues or addictions are often the most visible segment, they do not constitute the largest percentage of the homeless. Families with children are, by far, the largest sector and their percentages are still growing.
Q: So what are the causes of homelessness?
A: The primary cause can be summed up in a simple equation: insufficient income + high housing costs = homelessness. Thirty years ago, modest lodging could be found for a few dollars per night. Today in Anchorage, a person needs to earn $18.00 per hour to afford a modest 2-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent standards. Without some form of housing assistance, many persons are now totally priced out of the housing market.
Q: Should taxpayers bare the burden of low-income housing?
A: According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the largest federal housing assistance program is the entitlement to deduct mortgage interest from income for tax purposes. For every one dollar spent on low income housing programs, the federal treasury loses four dollars to housing-related tax credits, 75% of which benefit households in the top fifth of income distribution.
Q: What can I do to end homelessness in my community?
A: 1. Contribute funds to an agency for homeless prevention services.
2. Ask your elected officials what they know and are doing about homelessness in Alaska.
3. Support organizations trying to develop truly affordable housing in your community.