Housing program helps families find stability, independence

August 02, 2017

Growing up in Anchorage, Elana Cranston experienced the things most Alaskan kids usually do – a trip to the Alaska State Fair, watching the Iditarod race take off from downtown, taking part in the Fur Rendezvous carnival and more. So, after moving back to the area last year, she wanted the same thing for her own kids, 7-year-old Jazlene and 5-year-old Giana. RpdHsng_03

“I was taking them to do everything I did growing up,” said Cranston, who moved back home after struggling to create a life in Juneau and wanted to give her daughters a glimpse of her own childhood. Her life until then, she said, had had its share of downs, but is now looking up thanks to help from a consortium of agencies working to prevent homelessness in Anchorage.

Cranston is one of a growing group of recipients of a program called Rapid Rehousing. She, like many people struggling to make ends meet, has a full-time job. But she’s made some poor life choices, she acknowledges, and is working to get ahead now that she’s grown up and matured a bit.

“Things weren’t panning out,” said Cranston from the kitchen of her newly acquired, sparsely furnished apartment in East Anchorage. “My sister called, and said, ‘Dad’s not doing well.’ He was battling cancer, and I said, ‘That’s alright, I’m on my way.’ I knew I needed to be here.”

The problem was finding affordable housing, providing stability for her children and landing a job.

That’s where Providence Health & Services Alaska stepped in. As part of its own mission to assist vulnerable populations, Providence contributed approximately $300,000 to Catholic Social Services, Covenant House and Salvation Army for the Rapid Rehousing Program, and $60,000 to RurAL CAP to help rapidly rehouse clients. Anchorage’s Rapid Rehousing, like the national program of the same name, helps those just on the edge of homelessness get back on their feet.

“Rapid Rehousing, for families, is a really important piece to solving the homelessness puzzle,” said Lisa Aquino, executive director at Catholic Social Services. “The two fastest-growing populations for homelessness are seniors and children, and we want to end that.”

Cranston said without Rapid Rehousing she is not sure where she would have ended up. Back in Anchorage, jobless and with no place to live, she stayed with friends for as long as possible, but when those options dried up, she turned to RurAL CAP for help. RurAL CAP received $75,000 from Providence, $60,000 of which funds Rapid Rehousing. RurAL CAP case workers work with local landlords to get families into immediate housing, and they follow up with visits to ease families into a more stable existence. Cranston was one of their first placements.

“She was already working and wanted to get her girls in a better place,” said RurAL CAP case worker Marcia Morel-Lay, who worked with Cranston to find an apartment in early February. “I tell my clients, ‘I am not going to move you into a place where you don’t feel safe.’ I engage them in the search so they feel more empowered over their future.”

Corrine O'Neill, supportive housing division director for RurAL CAP, said without Providence’s funds, Rapid Rehousing would not have been launched in Anchorage. Case managers are needed to follow through with clients, and a bulk of the money goes to funding those positions.

“Nationally, the outcomes are very good for Rapid Rehousing, and we hope to see the same success here,” O’Neill said. “People are much more invested in solving their problems and finding a permanent solution when they have a place to live.”

Aquino couldn’t agree more.

“As a parent, your life is so full with just your child, but to be homeless on top of it is just so much to bear,” she said. “To have a roof over your head … it’s life changing. To have Providence willing to take a chance like this shows that they really value families.”