Working Together to Help Those in Need
In 1999, Jessica Stossel was fresh out of college and substitute teaching. While education was an interesting profession, Jessica had a passion for helping people and knew she wanted to find a more meaningful career that better utilized her degree in psychology.
She answered an advertisement in the newspaper to be an advocate for the Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living and embarked on a fulfilling career she could never have imagined.
Twenty-three years later Jessica is now the IAC executive director. Her time moving through the ranks from advocate, to receptionist, to administrative assistant and eventually to supervising advocacy teams has offered an in-depth perspective as to the specific needs in her community related to domestic violence.
Partners Make the Difference
IAC’s primary objective is to provide programs to intervene and prevent domestic violence, sexual assault, suicide, and other violent crimes that negatively impact the community and surrounding interior villages. The services are free and include a 24/7 emergency hotline serving Fairbanks and 42 surrounding villages.
While this remains the center’s focus, there has been a definite shift in community needs throughout the past five years, especially related to the impacts of COVID-19, an increase in people experiencing homelessness, and human trafficking.
The influx in these areas has been dramatic and the center is uniquely positioned to look at who is coming into the shelter, understand population needs, and develop long-term housing options. This intel has been particularly beneficial for expanding participation into programs such as Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s innovative Housing Stabilization and Recovery.
“Throughout the years, IAC has worked to strengthen our partnership with organizations like Alaska Housing, which in turn has helped to serve our mutual missions to offer more long-term housing opportunities and options that help clients integrate more effectively into the community,” says Jessica.
“Working more collaboratively with organizations who bring specific expertise to the table has really opened the door to better serve the needs of our expanding community.”
– Jessica Stossel, Executive Director, Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living
A Community That Cares
AHFC grants have been critical to the work being accomplished by the Center.
In the fall of 2020, IAC received a special Emergency Solutions Grant administered by Alaska Housing as part of the congressionally approved CARES Act. This funding supported an immediate need to expand and upgrade shelter options that included quickly bringing more beds into the community to better serve the challenges of Fairbanks' at-risk and homeless populations. It also helped to address health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic which generated an almost overnight loss of shelter beds.
That same year they also received a grant through the Department of Justice, also administered by Alaska Housing, that increased IAC’s ability to address the rising issue in Alaska of human trafficking.
A Network of Responders
The work conducted by IAC makes them a valuable partner because of their ability to stand up and connect vital community resources. This has been an important component of the Alaska Housing partnership, especially related to Housing Stabilization and Recovery efforts.
“We’ve really worked to expand priority community relationships with law enforcement, the medical community, and government agencies such as Alaska Housing – those who really support our mission and provide impact,” says Jessica.
“These partnerships, among others, have really increased community awareness and offered another avenue to expand education in schools and get the word out that there is help and assistance available.”
– Jessica Stossel
Jessica’s team of 56 also manages 40 public housing vouchers allocated from Alaska Housing. When someone qualifies for a voucher, they help to transition them to a housing case manager who works to find suitable housing and often works directly with landlords to secure housing for clients. IAC additionally owns 16 housing units that they can utilize to place voucher candidates who may otherwise find it difficult to find housing.
The center’s other vital resources include legal advocacy and legal services, prevention programs, and education.
“The housing piece is huge – it is difficult to find housing, especially during the pandemic because of a lack of available rentals,” Jessica says. “Having a partner to work closely with to provide viable shelter has been critical to addressing our immediate and long-term community needs.”
We recognize that some Alaskans may be in need of safe, quality, affordable housing. If you are facing homelessness or are in need of resources, we encourage you to contact Alaska 2-1-1. This free, confidential resource can help you to locate assistance in your home community. Dial 2-1-1 or 1-800-478-2221 or visit alaska211.org.