A love of Alaska and a passion for helping others shaped the career path of CIRI shareholder Taylor Donovan (Tlingit). At only 25 years old, she’s hard at work helping to end homelessness in Anchorage.
“Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city, but it’s easy to find that small-town sense of community,” she said. “I think Alaskans in general have a take-care-of-your-neighbor mentality. It’s definitely true of my family and how I was raised. I landed a great corporate job after college, but that passion wasn’t there. I wanted to go to work every day and be proud of what I was doing.”
As the program and grants manager for the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness (ACEH), Taylor helps fulfill the coalition’s mission of preventing homelessness by providing stable housing, job opportunities and ongoing support for clients. The nonprofit organization functions as a convener, meaning it serves as the Anchorage organizer for the local network of businesses, nonprofits and community members focused on ending homelessness. Currently, more than 50 organizations are engaged in the coalition.
A big part of Taylor’s job is overseeing the Anchorage Continuum of Care (CoC) program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) community plan to organize and deliver housing and services to those experiencing homelessness.
“All HUD CoC funding is distributed through ACEH,” Taylor explained. “We manage the Continuum, which means we conduct needs and gaps surveys on the services available. We really examine the populations we’re surveying—how can we meet the needs of homeless individuals and do so efficiently?”
ACEH partners with the Municipality of Anchorage, United Way of Anchorage and the Rasmuson Foundation on Anchored Home, Anchorage’s three-year plan to end homelessness. The organization also functions as the referral point to various housing programs, known as Coordinated Entry.
“Coordinated Entry is a federally mandated program that streamlines the housing process for those requesting assistance and their service providers,” Taylor said. “Individuals fill out a single assessment, which is used to determine eligibily into various housing programs. It’s one housing list; you don’t have to go to a dozen organizations and tell your homelessness story a dozen times, being retraumatized each time. It’s a way of prioritizing the most vulnerable for the limited services that exist, and of minimizing trauma.”
In 2017, Anchorage was selected as one of 10 HUD Youth Homelessness Demonstration Programs (YHDP) to receive a $1.5 million grant over a two-year period to stand up new programs geared toward youth. “The program is really designed to be collaborative with youth, so as part of our Community Plan to End Homelessness, we started a Youth Task Force,” Taylor said. “It’s all youth with lived experience at every meeting—informing the housing decisions, informing the program decisions.”
To reduce the number of youth experiencing homelessness, ACEH works with three youth housing programs: a permanent, supportive housing program run by Volunteers of America; a rapid rehousing program run by Covenant House Alaska; and a newer nonprofit, Choosing our Roots, that functions as a host-home model for LGBTQ+ youth.
Nationwide, 40% of homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBTQ+, and a 2017 University of Chicago study found that LGBTQ+ youth had a 120% higher risk of homelessness. “In Anchorage, we see that disparity not only in the LGBTQ+ community, but among Alaska Native and American Indian (AN/ AI) people as well,” Taylor said.
“If we look at historical trauma to Alaska Native people, we know there are still many effects of that—colonization and the stripping away of culture,” Taylor explained. “In Anchorage specifically, we see an inflow of people from rural Alaska who are here to receive health care or for job opportunities. Once they receive treatment or a job ends, they often find themselves in the largest city in the state with no support network.”
To help address this disparity, the Path to Independence program was launched in spring 2018. The public-private partnership is comprised of the Municipality of Anchorage, community organizations and businesses committed to helping homeless individuals secure long-term, stable housing. Path to Independence takes its referrals from Coordinated Entry; half of those served are AN/AI people. Individuals receive financial assistance for up to six months and case management for up to one year. The program focuses on immediate housing stabilization, followed by employment preparedness and connectivity to community support organizations. Cook Inlet Housing Authority, a CIRI-affiliated, state-chartered housing authority, provides employment opportunities for some participants. (For more information on CIRI’s involvement with Path to Independence, see the President’s Message on page 02.)
“I’m so lucky that I work with an amazing team at ACEH, but we’re also fortunate that corporations like CIRI are starting to get involved,” Taylor said. “We’ve seen business and community leaders like Sophie Minich (CIRI’s president and CEO) personally get involved. We’re receiving funding from nonprofit organizations that really support this work. The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, the Municipality of Anchorage—it all came together at the right time. We’ve made a lot of progress in reaching ‘functional zero,’ which is ending homelessness.
“When I interviewed with ACEH, it was with the executive director and the coordinated entry system manager,” Taylor continued. “That’s what really sold me—they were so passionate about their work and had this vision for where ACEH was going, how much impact we could have and the expansion of it.”
As for the future, Taylor plans to continue nonprofit work in Alaska. “I worked for Teach for America in college and my passion has always been in education, and especially racial disparity in education. I definitely think there’s higher education in my future, but I’m still figuring out what that might be—maybe a master’s in education, maybe an MBA because it’s more applicable to different areas.” In her spare time, she enjoys cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking and kayaking, and visiting her extended family in Southeast Alaska.
“I love the trajectory ACEH is on,” Taylor said. “I’ve been there six months, and we’ve hired six people. We have a lot to do, but we’re growing very quickly and have a ton of support. It’s awesome.”
For more information on Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, visit https://anchoragehomeless.org.