- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Fairbanks has a homelessness problem and, as Mayor Jim Matherly has pointed out on multiple occasions, it can be a matter of life and death in this subarctic climate.

In January, an event called Project Homeless attempted to count homeless people living in the Fairbanks area by offering free meals and other services. Two hundred forty-three homeless individuals were counted.

But Mike Sanders, the city’s new Housing and Homelessness Coordinator, said that number is most likely inaccurate - obviously not every homeless person in Fairbanks made it to the event. Also, a purported influx of transient homeless people occurs in the summer. Sanders plans to host another Project Homeless Connect event in July or August to get a more accurate picture of the homeless community, interact with them and also provide services such as HIV testing, haircuts and so on.

Although Sanders‘ office is at City Hall, he is not technically a city employee. His position is paid through a state grant. A retired Army Special Forces medical sergeant, Sanders has the friendly demeanor of a kindergarten teacher and a gung ho attitude. He said this line of work is “honestly not that different” than his time in the Special Forces.

“I know people have this Hollywood image of the Green Berets,” Sanders said. “But you go into these areas, meet with key leaders and try and do what you can to stabilize the area. It’s very similar to what I’m doing here.”

Since taking the job March 1, Sanders has reviewed the Fairbanks Housing and Homeless Coalition’s 10-year plan and is working toward updating it with short- and long-term goals. The plan eventually will be approved by the Fairbanks coalition.

Sander’s No. 1 long-term goal is to bring more permanent supportive housing to Fairbanks. Permanent supportive housing provides housing and services to people who may need two or more years of support to get on their feet, such as homeless people with mental illnesses or drug addictions.

“My long-term goal is to dig into permanent supportive housing. It’s really a nationwide best practice,” Sanders said.

No Limits Inc.’s Prosperity House - formerly the Old Ranch Motel - is the most recent addition of permanent supportive housing in Fairbanks. It provides housing for recently incarcerated people.

Kelvin Lee, a director at No Limits Inc., said Prosperity House opened in September and houses 30 people. Lee said finding housing can be extremely difficult for people with criminal records, no rental histories and no savings.

“I came out of the system. I was in it for 15 years,” Lee said. “I’ve been out 15 years now. But when you get out, you feel hopeless. You have a record. A criminal history. We like working with people with a history . We’re going to love you, but we’re going to hold you accountable.”

Sanders said Fairbanks also lacks family-friendly housing for homeless families as well as housing for homeless teens who are pregnant. He said these are priorities as well.

Fairbanks receives about 6 percent of the federal funds allocated to Alaska to fight homelessness. Fairbanks is estimated to have about 13 percent of the state’s homeless population, Sanders said.

Sanders said Fairbanks is getting an unequal share and he’d like to see that change, too.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com


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