Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveils the “People First Iniative,” a sweeping effort to target domestic violence and sexual assault, missing and murdered Indigenous persons, human sex trafficking, foster care and homelessness, in a Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 press conference in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveils the “People First Iniative,” a sweeping effort to target domestic violence and sexual assault, missing and murdered Indigenous persons, human sex trafficking, foster care and homelessness, in a Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021 press conference in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)

‘This state should be involved in the safety of its people’

Governor unveils effort to tackle domestic violence and sexual assault, missing and murdered Indigenous persons, human sex trafficking, foster care and homelessness

Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Tuesday unveiled a sweeping initiative aimed at addressing public safety issues in Alaska. Called the “People First Initiative,” the effort will target domestic violence and sexual assault, missing and murdered Indigenous persons, human sex trafficking, foster care and homelessness.

The initiative includes several administrative orders and the announcement of an omnibus bill proposing statutory changes. Dunleavy said Tuesday he expects to sign the administrative orders sometime this week. One order will form a “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Council.” Another will reestablish a task force focused on human and sex trafficking, and a third will focus on “reshaping the Alaska Council on the Homeless.”

Dunleavy said he will request in his fiscal year 2023 budget funding for two tribal liaison positions within the Alaska Department of Public Safety and one position for the Missing Persons Clearinghouse, which falls under the Alaska Bureau of Investigation. Those positions would go directly toward addressing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous persons in Alaska.

Native Peoples Action Executive Director Kendra Kloster during Tuesday’s press conference spoke about the importance of bringing together multiple stakeholders to address the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous persons in Alaska. Native Peoples Action is an Indigenous-led statewide nonprofit organization with a stated mission of providing Alaska Native communities with a voice at “all levels of policy making.”

Kloster said that murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women, with the rates of violence in rural areas being up to 10 times higher than the national average. Alaska ranks fourth in the nation, Kloster said, for the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and that Anchorage ranks third.

“They’re our daughters, they’re our mothers, our grandmothers,” Kloster said. “These aren’t just numbers to us.”

The proposed omnibus bill will also address domestic violence and sexual assault and human trafficking. Among other things, the bill will expand the crimes considered to be domestic violence, provide bail notice to victims of domestic violence, expand the definition of serious physical injury and increase the level of offense and address repeated violations of protective orders.

Additionally, the bill would make statutory changes to human trafficking, including clearly defining human and sex trafficking, requiring that sex trafficking is a registerable sex offense and allowing victims of sex trafficking to expunge their record.

Michelle Overstreet is the founder and CEO of MY House, a homeless youth center in Wasilla. She said during Tuesday’s conference that allowing victims of sex trafficking to expunge their record is important because there’s a “pattern” of prosecuting trafficked girls for prostitution.

“In the past, we’ve had a pattern of prosecuting girls who were trafficked for prostitution, rather than the reverse, and the efforts going in the direction of really preventing it (from) reoccurring,” Overstreet said.

The initiative also includes a comprehensive review of Alaska’s foster care system, with a focus on reducing the number of children in the program. More than 3,000 Alaskan children are in the care of the Alaska Office of Children’s Services as of December 2021, according to Dunleavy’s office.

That review will include the creation of a new Parent and Foster Parent Collaborative Council and address transitioning programs for older foster children by providing vocational opportunities and extending subsidies to the age of 21. That’s in addition to the focus Dunleavy said will be put on stabilizing the foster care workforce as it relates to pay and retention, including adding a “Workforce Wellness Unit,” a “Supervisory Unit” and increasing Social Service Associates.

To address the issue of homelessness in Alaska, Dunleavy said his administration will establish a Statewide Homelessness Coordinator in the Office of the Governor and will add a data manager position to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

Dunleavy told reporters Tuesday that the total cost of the People First Initiative will be “millions of dollars” that will come from savings in the state’s FY23 budget, which he said will be released Wednesday. He added that the value of addressing the issues described isn’t just monetary.

“This state should be involved in the safety of its people, this state should be involved in the safety of our kids (and) this state should be involved in the safety of the most vulnerable,” Dunleavy said. “If we can’t do that … I’m not sure what we’re here for.”

Dunleavy’s full press conference can be viewed on the governor’s Facebook page.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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