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

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

  • 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.

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