HOMEPLATE APARTMENTS— The entrance to the apartment building is bright and welcoming.HOMEPLATE MANAGER— Robert Norris, his soon-to-be wife Bessie Pagel and their 4-year old daughter Presley Norris live in an apartment at  Homeplate.HOMEPLATE MANAGER— Robert Norris, his soon-to-be wife Bessie Pagel and their 4-year old daughter Presley Norris live in an apartment at  Homeplate.

HomePlate ‘Housing First’ project reaches full capacity

HomePlate Apartments, a project to house those experiencing chronic homelessness in Nome, welcomed its last tenant on April 14, a milestone marking the full occupancy of all 15 units.
The project is managed by Nome Community Center, or NCC, and was championed by its former executive director Rhonda Schneider. It follows a “Housing First” approach to combatting homelessness, meaning there are no barriers to entry, so tenants don’t have to be sober before signing a lease and aren’t required to seek addiction treatment.
The building first opened to residents in December after a swift construction that began in the summer of 2023. First to move in were the building manager and their children, who reside in a small apartment attached to HomePlate. Over the past five months, NCC has recruited and moved in tenants from the street to their own furnished studio apartment.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, has a Homeless Management Information System, which chronicles and categorizes unhoused people across the country. Those on the “chronically homeless” list who have been unhoused for at least 12 months, consecutively or not, over three years, qualify to live at HomePlate.
After a series of interviews with potential residents to assess their readiness for the move, Manager of HomePlate and Housing and Homelessness Prevention at NCC Janice Mixsooke helped tenants with paperwork. This proved to be a great barrier as many needed to reapply for important documents like their social security cards.
Now with a full building, residents, building managers and NCC staff are settling into a new normal.
“They are stabilizing, and we know it takes about 90 days [to get settled in a new environment],” Schneider said. “Not many of them have reached the 90-day mark yet.”

Settling in
Almost immediately upon moving in, Schneider says she sees a difference in behavior.
“Once you’re housed and you’re secure and you’re safe, then these other things that you want to change in your life can happen, and most of them have said to us ‘I don’t want to drink anymore,’” Schneider told the Nugget.
Managers of HomePlate have reported residents taking accountability for their space, learning to manage the cleaning, laundry and maintenance required of an apartment. Director of Operations at NCC Colleen Spears said she often finds residents hanging out drinking coffee in the common area together, inviting friends from the Day Shelter. The NCC team works to create activities that will get residents comfortable with each other and staff. They’ve found success in group potlucks.
“One of the guests was like, ‘We have a stove. Can I cook caribou? I want to cook a Native meal,’ and then he did it,” Spears said. “It was so fabulous. The whole place smelled so good.”

Funding and building trust
HomePlate is funded through HUD vouchers in a sponsor-based rental assistance program. Residents need to report their annual income, including the PFD and dividends, which will determine their monthly rent. Even those with no income are required to come up with $50 a month.
“The challenge is these folks haven’t done banking, they haven’t done budgeting, they don’t know anything about how to save money,” Schneider said.
Mixsooke helps tenants wade through paperwork to access funds, often discovering their eligibility for money they didn’t realize they could receive. She also works to get them bank accounts, apply for government forms and connect with lawyers to resolve child support payments.
Schneider cited Mixsooke’s relationship building with residents as a reason for their success at HomePlate.
“They trusted her before they ever moved in,” Schneider said.

Overcoming the stigma
During construction many neighbors of the HomePlate Apartments were vocal about their concerns about the project and its proximity to their homes. Before the opening, neighbors were invited to tour the building, hear about the program and ask questions about the safety and security of the building. Schneider said talking it through put neighbors’ minds at ease, and no complaints have been made to NCC.   
The 15 apartments took 15 people off the streets of Nome. After conversations with the Nome Police Department, Schneider said officers reported a difference in activity around town, specifically Front Street, though in a perfect world there would be two housing units to make a dent in Nome’s homeless population.
While anyone can access the building during the day, guests have to be out of the building by 11 p.m. every night. On April 30, NEST, the emergency night shelter, closed for the season. Schneider is unsure how this will impact HomePlate but she said staff will make an effort to keep operations consistent. Since this is the first project of its kind in Nome, understanding best practices has been a learn-as-you-go process, she said.
Looking to the future, HomePlate could be fully self-sustaining with residents taking up monitoring jobs, managing the front desk and providing janitorial services. Mixsooke and NCC will continue to provide services to residents and build trust. This summer will be a trial period as some residents enter half a year of housing and others are just beginning their journey.
“That’s our mission—improved quality of life,” Schneider said.

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762
USA

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

www.nomenugget.net

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