Providing a solution to Anchorage homelessness with Think Tank

Students, faculty, staff and community members alike are challenged to come together and share solutions to issues in Anchorage through an event called Think Tank.

Put on by the UAA Center for Community Engagement and Learning, Think Tank is a series of brainstorming events. Each is paired with a nonprofit agency, and attendees provide solutions to a challenge presented by the organization, while enjoying free pizza.

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Students, faculty and community members gather in the UAA/APU Consortium Library for a Think Tank event. Photo credit: Judith Owens-Manley

“When students come to the Think Tanks, they tend to really enjoy them, and not just for the pizza,” Judith Owens-Manley, director of the CCEL, said. “It gives them a chance to be really thoughtful about what’s going on in the community and ways they can get involved.”

Think Tank began around four years ago as a monthly event. According to Owens-Manley, they not only look to involve non-profit organizations with the university, but to also address burning questions in the community,

This month, the topic at hand is homelessness in Anchorage, more specifically how to form a solution. As of 2015, an estimated total of 7,372 people were reported homeless in Anchorage, according to the Homeless Management Information System. Although the issue is pressing, a solution may be in sight.

Clare Dannenberg, associate professor of linguistic anthropology, along with her applied anthropology class, are working on a community engagement project on homelessness. Dannenberg and her students have teamed up with United Way of Anchorage, the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and the Municipality of Anchorage. Through Think Tank and other public events, they will collect as much community data as they can in efforts to form a solution.

“It’s all about social justice, and working more towards being open and accepting towards all human beings,” Dannenberg said. “Everybody should help everybody.”

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At the meeting, the question of “What does a solution to homelessness in Anchorage look like?” will be presented by Laura Brown, senior director of marketing and communication for United Way of Anchorage, along with an overview of the issue. Attendees will then have the chance to give direct input and opinions, as well as collaborate with others in smaller groups.

“Homelessness is a complex and multi-faceted issue,” Brown said. “It takes a village, or in this case a city, to solve it.”

Brown has been involved in previous Think Tank events and found them valuable.

“They’re designed for discussion and sharing, it’s a group effort,” Brown said. “It shows us how others envision the future, and what success looks like to them.”

This particular subject is a very important one for UAA faculty and students, the social work department in particular. Members have been very involved in fighting homelessness in the community, according to Owens-Manley.

Jonathan Bower, a UAA student pursuing his masters in social work, is an active member of the Think Tank events. He also assists the CCEL in running the meetings, as well as participates in them.

“[Think Tank] always picks subjects really relevant here in Anchorage, it gets me out of the academic brain,” Bower said. “In college, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when you keep hearing about so many issues in your classes. This is a way to actually work towards a solution to them.”

The “What does a solution to homelessness in Anchorage look like?” Think Tank event will take place on Thursday, Jan. 25 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. in the Consortium Library, room 307. The event is free, and open to all students, staff, faculty and other community members.

Upcoming events in the series include topics on the Alaskan environment and access to justice. A full schedule of the 2018 Think Tank Series is available on the CCEL page on the UAA website.