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Tanana Chiefs Conference lands funding to Fairbanks a residential facility for homeless

Posted: August 21, 2011 - 7:31pm

FAIRBANKS — Tanana Chiefs Conference has landed funding to convert a South Cushman Street hotel into a residential facility for the homeless.

The Fairbanks-based consortium of Interior tribes plans to open the facility by December, according to TCC Deputy Health Director Jacoline Bergstrom. TCC is purchasing a vacant 62,000-square-foot hotel for the purpose, which has previously been a Westmark Hotel and Best Western on South Cushman.

A public meeting to discuss the planned facility is scheduled 7-8:30 p.m. Monday at the Fairbanks Community Behavioral Health building at 3830 South Cushman St.

TCC is purchasing the hotel from its current owner, Fountainhead Development, with the help of a $1.8 million Alaska Housing Finance Corporation grant. Tribal delegates voted unanimously in March to pursue the plan.

The future homeless facility will operate under a model known as “Housing First,” which allows homeless people to obtain a place to live without a demand they stop drinking.

Advocates of the approach say it allows an at-risk population to find stability before attempting other major changes in their lives.

Jeff Jessee, the CEO of the Alaska Mental Health Trust, said the model is widespread in cities throughout the Lower 48, and has been “an incredible success” for those communities. The TCC-run Fairbanks project and a new 48-unit residence in downtown Anchorage will be the first large facilities in Alaska to use the model.

He said it gives chronic alcoholics, who have typically sought treatment and failed many times, an improved path to recovery.

“Not only are people able to be housed ... but their health improves, and in most cases their drinking actually goes down,” Jessee said.

Bergstrom said 47 rooms will be converted into single-occupancy apartment units for the homeless. Most of the remaining units in the 102-room hotel will be part of a different but connected facility that will provide short-term housing for village residents in Fairbanks for medical care.

Rent at the homeless facility will be subsidized, although each resident will be required to pay at least 30 percent of the cost of rent. Those funds could come from housing credits or through personal funds like Social Security or the Alaska Permanent Fund.

“The idea is to have some skin in the game, even if it’s just part of what will be paid,” Jessee said.

The units will have the same rules as a typical apartment building, said Alaska Mental Health Trust program director Nancy Burke, and residents will be allowed to possess and consume alcohol on site. If tenants behave inappropriately, however, she said they’ll risk getting booted out.

“If you’re not being a good tenant, there’s a chance you’ll be evicted,” Burke said.

Bergstrom said eligibility requirements for the new facility are still being discussed. Although TCC is tied to Interior tribes, no tribal affiliation will be required to qualify for housing in the new complex, she said.

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