For nearly 20 years, Family Promise Mat-Su has supported families experiencing homelessness in the Mat-Su Valley of Alaska by helping them achieve housing stability. Located in Wasilla, Alaska, the organization is an affiliate of the national Family Promise network, which consists of more than 200 community organizations committed to preventing family homelessness, operating shelters, and providing housing stabilization services. As the COVID-19 pandemic increased housing insecurity and put families at greater risk of homelessness, Family Promise Mat-Su quickly expanded its capacity to respond to the community’s growing needs and turned an ambitious dream into reality with the establishment of the H.O.P.E Family Navigation Center.
“The first thing COVID-19 showed us was that keeping a family with young children in a bedroom while another family utilized the shared space was very difficult for the children,” said Ginger Bear, Executive Director of Family Promise Mat-Su. “We had to come up with a space where children could release pent up anxieties and energy. That’s where our dream for H.O.P.E. House truly began.”
In 2021, Family Promise Mat-Su began partnering with the Alaska Housing Rent Relief Program to distribute federal Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) resources. Two staff members expanded their portfolios to manage this partnership, which is anticipated to last through June 2022. As the staff of Family Promise Mat-Su designed the ERA distribution system, they were mindful of the challenges of safely administering the program during an ongoing public health crisis. The organization set up an outdoor mailbox where applicants for rental and utility assistance could pick up blank forms and enabled them to return their applications through a separate, secure mailbox or via email. Family Promise Mat-Su is also a recipient of the Help Us Move In grant, which funds eviction prevention programs and rehousing for families with children, and a participant in the Basic Homeless Assistance Program, a state funding stream for preventing homelessness through rent and utility assistance. Family Promise Mat-Su uses these resources to support families receiving eviction notices, notices to quit, and utility shutoff notices, and to assist with signed lease agreements that place families experiencing homelessness into housing. Family Promise Mat-Su also pays families’ first month of rent upon their exit from transitional housing, which lays the groundwork for long-term housing stability.
Family Promise Mat-Su served more than 1,000 households in 2021 alone. Ninety-five percent of these households are low-income or extremely low-income; the remaining 5% are families who face extenuating circumstances such as unanticipated medical bills. The organization reaches a significant number of people experiencing homelessness in the Mat-Su Valley. According to the Mat-Su Health Foundation’s 2021 Community Needs Assessment, 630 households have experienced homelessness in the region, and prevention measures have served 340 of these households.
Building on last year’s monumental achievements, Family Promise Mat-Su recently achieved a major milestone that will greatly expand the organization’s reach and meet a wide range of community needs. In January 2022, Family Promise Mat-Su moved into a new facility – generously donated by the Pioneer Christian Fellowship – that enabled the organization to launch the H.O.P.E. Family Navigation Center.
The H.O.P.E. Navigation Center is a comprehensive resource hub that includes apartments for disaster survivors, a child enrichment center, recreational areas, a multipurpose room for community meetings and group therapy sessions, a full kitchen that serves community meals, laundry and shower facilities, sleeping spaces, a computer center to assist with job searches, and storage space for winter clothes, snacks, hand warmers, and other cold-weather necessities. The H.O.P.E. Family Navigation Center is already operational, although the center is still in the process of scaling up its services to full capacity. It will host an official ribbon-cutting ceremony in June 2022.
In addition to providing direct services, Family Promise Mat-Su educates the broader community and fosters empathy with people experiencing homelessness. The organization leads the annual Walk Across Wasilla, a weeklong scavenger hunt that encourages community members to spend five hours each day navigating local services to understand the obstacles that people experiencing homelessness face.