Restoring hope for the homeless of Anchorage

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Restoring hope — this is our pledge at Catholic Social Services this winter and every year. As we look around our community now, we see a great need for hope and for a sense of home for so many. It is important to be connected with family and loved ones, to feel supported and able to make safe and healthy choices for yourself and for those you care about.

In the past year, Catholic Social Services has started down a path to expand and rethink our services to better serve our clients. We originally expanded our day services at Brother Francis Shelter through one-time funding from the Anchorage Assembly. Now we remain open 24 hours a day to best serve our guests even after that funding ran out. Day shelter is possible because of support from the community and partners like Providence Health & Services Alaska. We also forged new partnerships with all of the local hospitals. We opened a new space for medical respite and new clinical services, making options for health and stability possible.

Inside Brother Francis Shelter we have increased staff by more than 50 percent since 2015, and we have hired night security to ensure campus safety. Increased staffing was also a response to the community’s concern for safety stemming from camping and sleeping in our public trails and green spaces. The municipality responded and camps are being closed, but there is no plan for where the people who were camping should go now. We opened our doors wide and worked hard to serve them, in addition to the hundreds we already serve.

We are full at Brother Francis Shelter almost every day of the year, serving beyond ideal limits some days, in order to help those who need a home and hope. We are looking at new models, new partnerships and new approaches with the entire community to address the issues of those living outside in our town. Thank you to our generous donors. Nearly 80 percent of emergency services costs at Brother Francis Shelter and Clare House come from you in the community.

We strive to streamline and partner to best serve people. We are a leader in the citywide effort to utilize a coordinated system to find and connect people to the best services for their needs. About 85 percent of people using this system are assisted through Catholic Social Services.

Home is something we all need, and it’s what the men and women experiencing homelessness in Anchorage seek. They need community and support — people who care about them and their future and who see a path forward.

I am reminded of a woman I recently met — she had given up her child for adoption with us decades ago, when she was a teen. She was going through a journey to reconnect with her past so she could tell her story. It was not easy. She had experienced trauma and faced obstacles in her youth, but she had broken through and found hope and a home. She is now a successful person in many ways and has reconnected with her birth daughter and her daughter’s adoptive family. She remembers talking to Sister Mary Clare Ciulla who worked at Catholic Social Services many years ago. As she told me her story, I could hear the hope she experienced from those conversations with Sister Clare. At Catholic Social Services we open our doors and provide the help to those who need it most on their own path home.

The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more on CSS, call 222-7300 or visit cssalaska.org.


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