A Quality Resource Center in Mt View
This writer spent some of my youth in an Anchorage that was a community of characters you might read about in good fiction, and as a young man I came to know a lot of them. As a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News during the mid-1970s I sometimes wrote stories about them, as happened in this story about old-time crime.
Today Anchorage crime is much worse and homelessness is a crisis. Our local elected leaders have made great efforts to warehouse people experiencing homelessness. Many from rural Alaska migrate to Alaska’s largest Native village to find family, friends or opportunity. Some become disenfranchised.
Emergency Shelter Task Force Preliminary Recommendations, September 16, 2022
These aren’t new problems.
A Tradition of Caring
Shiloh Community Housing, Inc. (SCHI) has been in operations since 2001/02, explained D. Shenee’ Williams, President and CEO, during my recent tour of the Mt View facility her Non-profit corporation intends to turn into a Community Resource Center located at 3127 Commercial Dr.
Homelessness wasn’t the hot topic 21 years ago, continued Williams, but disenfranchised people was. That was a part of the vision of the founder, Pastor Dr. Alonzo B. Patterson—to remove the barriers to having a home. That remains our vision and our mission today.
Williams continued: Homelessness is now a hot topic, and even though we’re a predominantly black organization, our constituents are poor people–of all races.
This is in the tradition of Rev. Martin Luther King for whom Americans now celebrate with a national holiday in February.
Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church is based in Fairview, a part of Anchorage that was fiercely independent for many years even as it was surrounded by Anchorage development. SCHI has an affordable housing rental-facility in Fairview and also a twelve-plex in Mt View. This new acquisition was given to the non-profit organization by General Communications, Inc. (GCI) https://www.gci.com/about/contact-us.
SCHI has several programs that are operational and they will provide ballast for the new Resource Center.
Williams: We’re going to be remodeling to make this a quality environment–number one quality environment. I want people to walk into our lobby area and have to back out because they’re gonna wonder if they’re still in Mountain View! That’s critical for me because we must overcome the attitude that if you don’t have anything, you need to be happy with whatever you get. That’s NOT my perspective. We want people to feel good about coming here not ashamed because they think this is a poor people’s place. It is going to be inviting and has resources for everyone. We’re all living on the edge, COVID proved that.
This is the program that gave me the vision to consider operating something on this scale, continued Williams. Through the eviction-prevention program, we partner with everyone—landlords, service providers, United Way, Catholic Social Services, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation—through all of our programs. It’s based on an interview and application qualification process. We help a person one time through this program.
Resources and Expectations for Those Needing a Hand-up or More Education
The Resource Center will provide an opportunity to collaborate all the range of resources available for basic human needs at a one-stop location under one roof, said Williams. This idea emerged from our Financial Assistance Program–which prevents evictions, prevents people from getting their utilities shut off, providing first time renters security deposits and first month’s rent.
We know that if we prevent eviction one month we haven’t solved that person’s problems but through this Resource Center we hope to provide education and supports so they never get back to nearly losing their housing and becoming homeless, continued Williams. Financial Literacy is going to be taught here. We have already started the conversations with the banking industry–to have knowledgeable bankers come in and talk about financial literacy—from creating a budget to wealth-building, retirement planning, investments, starting a business, entrepreneurship, the whole gamut. This resource center will be available to all people.
Shiloh Community Housing Helps Young Alaskan Eagles Fledge
The Shiloh LIFE Program stands for Living Independent Forever. It allows young adults experiencing homelessness to reside in an apartment, a 12-plex owned by Shiloh since 2007. Single young adults male and female can live there up to two years until they are able to get their feet on the ground. They are not required to have a job to come into the program but they must be motivated and interested in learning to live beyond their current circumstances.
Williams explained: If you’re interested in helping yourself, then we’ll come right alongside of you and do everything we can to remove any barrier preventing you from reaching your full potential.
We also will have job availability and workforce development, because people want better jobs–they want to increase their employment opportunities to get on a career ladder, said Williams.
Physical and mental health is going to be taught in what we call our Wellness Area. We’re partnering with other agencies for a range of services. For instance, we will partner with organizations that can make loans, like the Small Business Administration.
We are all Facing Challenges!
Remember when we were all told that to be financially secure we had to have six months reserves? Queried Williams. We were told to have enough to pay bills for six months in the bank. It’s now been three years for COVID and for those people who had six months’ reserves, those resources are gone. We ALL must now be lifelong learners and embrace available opportunities.
We’re going to also have an internet café; GCI is providing free high-speed internet for three years. We’re will make it available to the community, said Williams. A lot of community people can’t afford internet. We’re hoping that the internet cafe, with soup, sandwich and coffee will add to the comfort of the Resource Center. It’s not a cafe to sell things, but we’re going to have those things available to encourage this to be a gathering place. I have personally learned a lot of what I know by talking to people just as you and I are talking now, DONN. When you tell me something I didn’t know I research it further–read about it. We are hoping that the internet cafe is going to provide that same opportunity for learning.
We will have a few offices to lease—not enough for the organizations that want to come here—but one of the problems we’ve seen in 21 years with our financial program, is we often send people needing assistance to three other places, said Williams. That person may have had a hard time coming to get help in the first place. I have heard them say: “My boss, let me off today to come here because they know I’m getting evicted. I don’t have time to go talk to these other people.”
We’re talking about people working eight to five–one hour for lunch–driving took up all of that so they don’t even have time to talk, said Williams. With a one-stop-shop they can see someone for educational services or youth support services upstairs or Medicaid. By the way, while you’re here, our little ones can be in our Childcare Center.
The mission of Pastor Patterson laid the foundation for the Resource Center and his legacy continues with the current Pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Undra Parker who will be a regular at the Furniture Bank–that’s his brainchild.
Williams has a team of specialists in various disciplines to help design and create components of the Resource Center for maximum efficiency and utility. They are part of a local network dealing with contemporary social problems with creative means, i.e., SCHI Resource Center’s Community Cohort and as this writer reflects on it I wonder at what we have seen happen in our community from the days before Oil wealth made the rich richer and the poor wondering how state statutes can be violated to deny payment of Permanent Fund Dividends at the rate paid over 40 years.
I am also reminded of the transformation I have seen in the Community of Mt View since the time when I was in school at Orah Dee Clark Junior High School. By 1974 the people there were concerned that high-density housing projects would degrade the character of their community. With higher demand for housing organizations like Cook Inlet Housing Authority are now providing housing opportunities from rental to ownership.
What we feared might happen to Mt View has become reality. Responsible Alaskans will always rise to the occasion. This is a very diverse and challenging part of Anchorage deserving to share in opportunities available to all in our blessed state of Alaska.
Emergency Shelter Task Force Preliminary Recommendations, September 16, 2022