by Bethel Community Services Foundation Staff
On January 23, 2019, 74 people were identified as possibly or definitely homeless in Bethel.
This information was provided by the Bethel Housing and Homelessness Coalition, which conducted a Point in Time homelessness data collection project in January 2019.
Roughly half of homeless individuals were male and half were female, 96% were Alaska Native/American Indian (4% unknown), 88% were adults (22% were under 18, 5% were unknown).
Of this number, 29 people were staying at Winter House emergency shelter, with family or friends, in abandoned buildings/vehicles or other locations; 32 were staying at Tundra Women’s Coalition shelter.
It is not known where others were sleeping.
Eileen Arnold, the director of the Tundra Women’s Coalition said, “TWC’s primary purpose is to provide shelter for people who are experiencing homelessness because of domestic and sexual violence, but we get a lot of requests for shelter from people who are homeless for other reasons. Sometimes it’s chronic homelessness because of substance misuse, or mental health conditions, or a chronic history of trauma, but also because people from the villages get stuck in Bethel or are being kicked out of their homes because it’s overcrowded.”
Twenty-nine people participated in the survey portion of the data collection, which was conducted in an interview-style format. Of those people who were surveyed, 66% were male and 34% female, and the average age was 45 years old.
A quarter of those surveyed had military experience, and the top sleep locations were Winter House (55%) or with family/friends (34%). While shelter residents at TWC were counted, they did not participate in surveys.
For 52% of the survey takers, this was not their first time homeless. The average length of homelessness was 9.7 months for people experiencing homelessness for the first time – but the average was 27.9 months for people who have experienced homelessness before.
“The data indicate that the first time someone is experiencing homelessness in our community, it’s for less than a year. But if someone becomes homeless again, the data imply that they may be homeless for a much longer period of time,” said Ariel Herman, contract project analyst with the Bethel Community Services Foundation.
Jon Cochrane, board president of Winter House Shelter, expressed concern that the unusually warm January day may have resulted in an undercount of homeless individuals. Still, he said, “There was some great data gathered- including the higher-than-perceived number of women experiencing homelessness and the number of individuals who have been homeless for multiple years. With the budget issues either ending or delaying state funding, the Winter House shelter is going to need financial support from the public to continue operating at the same level we have been.”
The purpose of the collection is to have a better understanding of the scope of homelessness in Bethel on one specific day. The Point in Time data collection process is a nationwide model with many communities participating across the country, including several in Alaska. The collection included both surveys conducted by Coalition volunteers with homeless individuals and observations.
All of the data was collected on one day, January 23, 2019, an above average warm day (32⁰F). Data was collected at Winter House (seasonal overnight shelter), Tundra Women’s Coalition (domestic violence/sexual assault program that includes an emergency shelter), City Hall, and the library-led Project Homeless Connect (event with social services held at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center), as well as observations made around town.
“Project Homeless Connect events are provided in order to bring a variety of services to people in need in a convenient one-stop-shop event,” said Theresa Quiner, Kuskokwim Consortium Library director. “People can get a hot meal, showers, laundry tokens, haircuts, and information from a variety of agencies including Public Health, AVCP Housing, and YKHC outreach departments. The event also provides a convenient space to collect survey data. The best part of the event is that it creates a sense of community surrounding the issue of homelessness in the community.”
Agencies that participated included the Winter House Shelter, Tundra Women’s Coalition, Bethel Community Services Foundation, Bethel Police Department, Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center, City of Bethel, Kuskokwim Consortium Library, and the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center.
The Bethel Housing and Homelessness Coalition is continuing to assess housing and homelessness data, needs, and services to better support people experiencing homelessness in our community.
To learn more about the Coalition’s efforts or to support them, contact Eileen Arnold with the Tundra Women’s Coalition ([email protected]) or Michelle DeWitt with the Bethel Community Services Foundation ([email protected]).
Arnold said, “the Housing & Homelessness Coalition was started over two years ago with enthusiastic support from a wide variety of community agencies and community volunteers and members. There are a lot of people who care about providing services for our most vulnerable and making this a community that drives evidencebased solutions for complicated issues like homelessness.”
The 2019 Bethel Point in Time Homelessness Data Collection report can be found on the websites of several participating organizations- including bcsfoundation.org, tundrapeace.org and bethelwinterhouse.org.