In Nome, when the local shelter is closed during warmer months, people experiencing homelessness roam the streets, looking for a spot to sleep along the seawall, in abandoned vehicles, or around the small boat harbor. In Bethel, it’s been a similar story.
Now, new housing for those most in need is being developed across Alaska.
At its June meeting, the Rasmuson Foundation board approved grants for housing developments in Bethel, Fairbanks, Nome and Wasilla. The $1.65 million for housing was part of nearly $9 million in approved grants supporting a total of 25 projects, many promoting housing or quality health care, that will benefit communities from Utqiaġvik to Juneau.
“One of our big initiatives at Rasmuson Foundation is solving homelessness and the answer is summed up in a single word: housing,” said Diane Kaplan, Foundation president and CEO. “I am pleased to announce that our board underscored our commitment at our recent meeting. These housing grants will help our neighbors get what we all long for, a place to call home.”
In the Yukon-Kuskokwim area, Bethel Community Services Foundation will receive $500,000 for 20 efficiency apartments for those who have experienced chronic homelessness. In the Bering Strait region, Nome Community Center is receiving a like amount to house those who have been chronically homeless. These stand out as the first permanent supportive housing developments in rural Alaska.
Ten grants promote quality health care and social supports, one of the core impact areas of Rasmuson Foundation. In Anchorage and Kodiak, Providence Alaska Foundation is expanding a project that brings behavioral health clinicians into schools. In Wasilla, Set Free Alaska is receiving $650,000 to transform a former bed-and-breakfast establishment into supportive safe-and-sober housing for around 30 individuals.
A new health clinic in Quinhagak, expansion of Southcentral Foundation’s traditional healing clinic and a community wellness center in Nenana are among other health-related projects receiving support.
The board also received an update on the Foundation’s Black in Alaska storytelling project, which shares the stories of Alaskans who are Black through photos, videos and profiles on a dedicated website, blackinalaska.org, and through social media. All year, photos of featured participants will rotate in and out of an exhibit at the Anchorage Museum. In May, Alaska Airlines co-sponsored a celebration of the project at the museum.
Two guests, Alaska Native leaders Katherine Gottlieb and James LaBelle, provided the board with powerful insights about the historical trauma that impacts life today for many Alaska Native people. Gottlieb, the former CEO of Southcentral Foundation and Alaska’s first MacArthur genius, told how colonization, the stripping away of language, loss of rights for traditional fishing grounds, loss of family, all continue to cause despair. When Southcentral Foundation surveyed people for top health care priorities to address, Gottlieb said, the list wasn’t topped by cancer or diabetes, but by domestic violence and child abuse and neglect.
LaBelle, a leader on the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, told how he and his little brother were taken from their mother as little boys and along with other children suffered greatly at a harsh and abusive boarding school, Wrangell Institute. He remembered how children at the start cried for their mothers, for someone to hold them, to love them. “It was sad that no children cried by the end of the school year,” he remembered. After months of forced assimilation, even hope had been taken from them.
Culture camps, language revitalization efforts and healing programs like Southcentral’s Family Wellness Warriors initiative all make a difference, the speakers said. Gottlieb noted that Rasmuson Foundation was an early supporter of the wellness initiative, which helps individuals work through trauma.
The City of Nenana is building a community wellness and fitness center.