I am writing this from vacation, but I have been unable to “turn off” work while here. I know we all struggle with that. The thought holding me back that I cannot turn off is the proposed alcohol tax. In my work, I’m constantly reminded of our call to help others and live like Jesus, so I am sharing why I support the tax.
I am no model to follow and I struggle every day. However, I am blessed in my work to see the light of so many who, even in their most challenging moments, shine their light and stand up to love one another. The other night I was at Brother Francis Shelter in the evening, at about 10 p.m., and it was a challenging night. People were having a hard time calming down, it was very crowded, and it was a bitterly cold night. A man came and introduced himself to me. He had stayed at the shelter in the past and moved into housing, but his work fell through. Then, he was injured and he found himself back in homelessness. He had just obtained another job that day, though, and was making his plans for the future. I wished him well. He went to a bathroom at the front that is heavily used and someone had vomited all over it. He let me know about the situation in the bathroom and asked me, “Would you mind just getting me a mop? I will clean this up. I know who was here and they had a bad night – bad news and tough health problems. I know that feeling and I would be happy to help because I know people help me. I got a job today.” I think we should all be like this man and offer to take on an inconvenience because it is the right thing for our brothers and sisters.
My area of study and expertise is in public health science. From the public health perspective, a tax on alcohol is very logical and is probably the single most impactful way to reduce underage and binge drinking in our community. It would reduce death and improve the quality of life for many. There is much strong evidence that supports this.
I am not an expert in economics though, and I do not know the different arguments around different tax proposals. What I do know as the leader of Catholic Social Services is that the tax would bring in needed revenue to support life or death services in our community for people we serve in homelessness. It would help to provide needed services for the vulnerable, including substance misuse treatment and child abuse prevention. It would also support our partners in public safety to have the resources to better help the vulnerable that they serve. The tax is positive from that perspective.
This year, the Anchorage Assembly and the Municipality of Anchorage came forward boldly to provide more funds for emergency services at Brother Francis Shelter desperately needed if state budget cuts had gone through in August. This was a strong testament to their will and commitment to vulnerable people in Anchorage, and they came forward with a one-time grant.
On an annual basis, the Municipality of Anchorage provides almost no ongoing funding to Catholic Social Services. It is you, the donors and supporters of BFS, who have truly kept the doors open.
However, our existing funds are not enough as we all struggle to address more complex health issues in homeless services than we ever have before: More substance misuse, mental health disease, an aging population and for many individuals, all of these issues are happening at once.
The funds in the proposed tax are strictly allocated. They support funding for public safety, child abuse services, treatment for addiction and homeless services. These are critical services to build a safe, vibrant and loving community.
For me, this tax makes sense. I understand there are other arguments and other routes to take, but I have not heard one that could provide funds for these needed services. I believe that right now, we have a moment to address needs that some of the most vulnerable people in our community are struggling with – violence, illness and homelessness. These are men, women and children who we know and love in our community. Access to services could change their lives and the lives of their families. For many, they do not have access to those services right now, so this could literally save their lives.
To me, this tax is a way for me to offer help to others like this man did that night, but in a much easier way. So, as I take this sunny vacation, after a very hard year, it feels like the least I could do is share how I feel about this tax and the impact it could make on our community. Whatever your view on this, please know I have nothing but love for you. My friend at Brother Francis Shelter reminds me again of how important it is to live with that in my heart. Together we will find solutions and peace.