Opinion: Equity-based, social solutions are needed for the unsheltered

We are now experiencing heart-wrenching houselessness across our nation.

  • By Dana Dardis in partnership with Alaska Poor Peoples Campaign
  • Saturday, July 31, 2021 10:11pm
  • Opinion

By Dana Dardis

Alaskans are known for their fierce independence and, in times of hardship, for giving a helping hand to those in need. I’ve been fortunate to witness and befriend some of the finest Alaskans — helping those in troubled times. When we experienced a 7.1 earthquake in November 2018, Alaskans shined and showed what coming together was all about.

We are now experiencing heart-wrenching houselessness across our nation, including cities across Alaska. Coming together as a diverse community to find equity-based, social solutions is needed more than ever. Anchorage and the rest of our nation are experiencing a humanitarian crisis. If we do not find a way to rise to the occasion and address houselessness with compassion and with focus at its core causes, houselessness will worsen exponentially with COVID and climate change, Anchorage a climate-resistant city.

Alaska has many unique characteristics that separate us from the Lower 48. Even with our geographically isolated location, we share socioeconomic and sociopolitical challenges as one nation.

Houselessness is projected to continue to increase by 2.2% across the nation. When it is reported that a staggering 580,466 Americans experience houselessness on any given night, and when over 437,278 evictions have been filed during a pandemic in six states, we know houselessness is systemic. Its causes rooted in economic and political policy. In a June 2020 ADN article, it was estimated that 1,100 people were officially unhoused while approximately 7,900 sought some form of assistance due to houselessness.

Given the research and the rhetoric from our leadership about housing first priorities, why do their actions continue to contradict and cause further harm? Let’s be frank, city officials must go to the source and not the other way around. Access to institutions is a barrier for many people, especially for people who are unhoused. Let me be clear, the top-down approach isn’t solving houselessness nor are the policies and mandates that criminalize houselessness.

If there is to be a sincere effort to solve housing for those who are unhoused, then voices of individuals experiencing houselessness must be given priority in the process, a collaborative effort that doesn’t compound trauma already experienced by these individuals in dire circumstances. It is imperative that leadership create a “we can do this together,” neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach that is diverse, human centered and housing first.

Tens of millions of tax dollars are spent every year. Millions on relentless meetings, studies, expensive brochures and presentation amounting to outcomes where people are still sleeping on the streets and in the woods. Exactly where are the millions going?

Navigation centers are temporary human warehouses. They are not stable homes in areas with access to programs, facilities and transportation. The idea of a 450 mega temporary shelter seems both a waste of money when we have the Sullivan Arena, that is centrally located, and contradictory to a municipality whose direction is “Home for Good.”

To uproot and disrupt the lives of hundreds of people from Sullivan Arena during a pandemic and when there are no permanent solutions seem absurd.

People need stable and permanent homes. In Anchorage, we have a few examples of individual entrepreneurs both for profit and nonprofit who are providing housing and support. The city should talk to these entrepreneurs who already have a pulse for what works, and make them part of the solution.

Houselessness affects families from ALL walks of life. It includes individuals who have experienced loss: divorce, death, unemployment, eviction; individuals who have experienced tragedy, domestic abuse, trauma (including historical), incarceration, and debt; individuals with mental health issues and addiction, individuals who lack reliable transportation, access to affordable housing, and low-wage earners and seasonal workers.

Blaming houselessness on the individual is ignorant, cruel and perpetuates dangerous and hurtful stigmas and fears. Both data and research point to the fact that houselessness is a symptom of grotesque unbridled capitalism that particularly impacts marginalized communities? It’s time we acknowledge this truth and work together to solve it permanently.

Associate Supreme Court Justice, Louise Brandeis said, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.

Dana Dardis is a writer, poet, artist and prior B&B owner. She holds a B.A. and M.Ed. Dardis is currently enrolled in a substance use disorder professional counseling program. She lives between both Alaska and Washington. Alaska Poor Peoples Campaign is a nonprofit organization that challenges systemic racism, poverty, and the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality of religious nationalism.

More in Opinion

LaDawn Druce asks Sen. Jesse Bjorkman a question during a town hall event on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Addressing Kenai Peninsula’s education and public safety employee shortage

Many of our best and brightest educators take a hard and close look at the teacher’s retirement system in Alaska early in their careers and are stunned

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney greet each other outside the chamber at the U.S. Capitol on April 5, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP file photo)
Opinion: Alaska’s senators and Mitt Romney

When newly elected Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, began his term five years… Continue reading

A line of voters runs out the door of the Diamond Ridge Voting Precinct at the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center on Election Day, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, in Homer, Alaska. Chamber Executive Director Brad Anderson said he had never seen the amount of people coming through the polling place. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
How many ways can you vote?

Multiple ballot options available to voters

UAA Provost Denise Runge photographed outside the Administration and Humanities Building.
Opinion: UAA offers affordable and convenient pathways that prepare students for the next step

At UAA, we provide numerous academic programs designed to meet specific workforce needs

scales of justice (File photo)
Opinion: The Dubious Dunleavy Deal to use public dollars for personal legal costs

In 2019, these regulation changes were ultimately abandoned without public notice

A 2022 voter information pamphlet rests on a desk in the Peninsula Clarion offices on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Where to find voter pamphlets

Be educated about what you are voting on

Trustees and staff discuss management and investment of the Alaska Permanent Fund. (Courtesy Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation)
Providing Alaska-based opportunities for professional talent

Expanding our in-state presence by opening a satellite office in Anchorage has been part of the fund’s strategic plan for the past four years

Ben Carson (center) visits Iditarod Elementary School in Wasilla with Gov. Mike Dunleavy (to Carson’s right) on Tuesday. (Official photo from the Office of the Governor)
Opinion: Embarrassing Alaska through neglectful governance

When Gov. Mike Dunleavy learned Dr. Ben Carson would be speaking in… Continue reading

Flowers bloom at Soldotna City Hall on Wednesday, June 24, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Municipal government? What are their responsibilities?

Municipal governments (boroughs and cities) are similar to state and federal governments

A voting booth for the Kenai Peninsula Borough and City of Homer elections at Cowles Council Chambers on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Charlie Menke/ Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: Will you vote?

Kenai Peninsula Votes is asking the reader if you have a plan for how you will vote

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski speaks on a range of subjects during an interview with the Juneau Empire in May 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Point of View: The wrong move

This is the first step in what will end up being a multiyear, disruptive, unnecessary and expensive move to Anchorage