Juneau’s Housing First Project is now $100,000 closer to its goal of providing housing for Juneau’s chronically homeless population. The project — a three story, 44-unit housing facility under construction in Lemon Creek — received the donation this week from the Reitman Foundation, an Anchorage-based trust.
The donation helped closed the project’s remaining funding gap. Project officials weren’t available by the end of the business day Thursday to confirm how close they are to their funding goals, but a December press release said they needed $100,000 to complete the project.
Reitman Foundation trustee Mary Jane Michael chose to donate to Housing First after speaking to Carlton Smith, a fellow board member of the Alaska Mental Health Trust. From the start, Michael knew the project was something late trust founder Stanley Reitman would be proud of.
“Housing is really the most important thing you can do for an individual,” Michael said. “It was a big priority for Stan (Reitman), so I talked to the other trustees and they said this was a project that Stan would want to see continue. … Luckily, we were able to give them this Christmas present.”
The Reitman Foundation’s mission: helping those with mental disabilities, alcohol dependance or traumatic brain injury.
Project director Amy Skilbred and Michael toured the facility on Monday. Reitman was impressed by the amenities the project provides to its clients.
“It’s great for the project to be in control from the ground up,” she said. “There’s laundry on each floor, little kitchenettes — it’s really a state-of-the-art facility.”
As board members of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, Michael and Smith both administer a $1 billion dollar fund on behalf of 80,000 Alaska residents with mental health issues.
Michael said funding for mental health projects is often given away with stipulations that funds be used to alleviate mental health problems. Because the Housing First Project meshes so well with the Reitman Foundation’s goals, she felt comfortable donating to the project without asking for funding stipulations.
“It’s so great when an organization can receive funding unrestricted and apply it to what they need,” Michael said.
The Housing First Project seeks to house Juneau’s chronically homeless and chemically dependent — sobriety is not required to receive housing. Many of these individuals have co-occuring disorders like substance abuse and mental health disorders, making the project particularly well-suited to the Reitman Foundation’s mission.
In a 2015 survey, the Juneau Homeless Coalition found that only 40 percent of Juneau’s current population suffering from homelessness utilized a shelter system. The high percentage of individuals sleeping outdoors either don’t meet the requirements for shelter or are waiting for more beds to become available.
Over half the individuals the coalition surveyed scored high on a vulnerability index. Studies have shown that those classified as vulnerable are 40 percent more likely to suffer from premature death.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org