A movement is afoot in Anchorage as homelessness and the those experiencing it are increasingly on our minds. It could be because their numbers are higher or that they’re more visible, but it feels like more than that. It feels like people are noticing; people are concerned and standing up to say, “This must change!”
There have always been voices carrying the message that to be homeless in Anchorage is not right, not with our wealth and spirit as a community. Still homelessness persists. But now more voices are speaking out than ever before about this issue. We might attribute part of this to civic leaders, like Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, who has made it a mission of his administration to address homelessness. It could be because of the decades-long work by homeless coalitions and agencies doing great work every day like Catholic Social Services, Covenant House, Beans Café, RuralCAP, Salvation Army, Anchorage Community Mental Health Services, Neighbor Works and so many more. It could be the press and the storytellers sharing the lives and tales of the disenfranchised in our city. It could be our community being blessed with the gift of vision at this moment to focus on this key issue. What ever the causes, let us not squander this opportunity. We have a collective vision right now towards ending homelessness in our community. In support of that vision the board of Catholic Social Services has formally adopted a strategic focus; the end of homelessness in Anchorage.
Although we have worked with impact for many years to contribute towards this goal, this is a bold step for us because we have never named it and measured it this way.
We believe that we have unique experience and expertise to contribute towards the goal and we know we cannot reach it alone. We are proud to be an important component and are committed to working with others to make the end of homelessness happen in Anchorage.
As we continue towards this ultimate goal, I am compelled to speak about our case managers. They are a part of a program we call Homeless Family Services. Case managers serve guests at the Brother Francis Shelter and the Clare House. We also have case managers in our administrative offices that serve everyone else in the community experiencing homelessness or imminent homelessness.
Our case management team supports those seeking to attain permanent housing. That for us is success. Once in housing, a family is better able to cope with the many issues they face. Without permanent housing it is difficult to focus on anything other than getting a roof over their heads — for themselves and for their families. Our case managers help them navigate the system and challenges as they walk together out of homelessness.
If you receive our Brother Francis newsletter, you may have read the success stories of some of our clients. One that impacted me was the story of Roger. He was a Brother Francis Shelter guest who worked with our case managers and is now in permanent housing. Roger explains that being homeless was a “full-time job.” He never planned to be homeless and it was a lonely place. He was able to overcome that situation by working with a case manager who helped him plan, save and eventually succeed. Today Roger is in his own apartment and his grandchildren visit regularly. His life is changed — that is the power of case management in helping to end homelessness in Anchorage.
Our case managers are funded largely by state and federal grants but with the present economy in Alaska we will be struggling in the future. There may come a time when those grants are reduced or cut entirely. Many difficult decisions will need to be made, but it is important to recognize that without the support of case managers the homeless problem will not go away. Homelessness is a sinkhole that ensnares many who are down on their luck.
But with the vision of our state leaders and the mission of many organizations in our city and throughout the state, we are going to defeat homelessness. We at Catholic Social Services are taking the step of naming that goal in solidarity, as a partner in the mayor’s plan, and with the belief that it can happen. In reaching this goal we look to our case managers and to you the community to continue to love, support and serve your fellow citizens.