Here at Catholic Social Services, we recently received a letter from a former client. At an unexpected crisis point in his life he found himself homeless and with nowhere to turn. He turned to the Brother Francis Shelter, but he came to us with low expectations and filled with fear of personal danger, as well as fear of being judged. His experience changed his view of shelters and of being homeless.
Praising members of our staff both at the shelter and in case management he pointed out how his time at the Brother Francis Shelter helped him and changed his life for the better. He ends his thank you note with, “thank you again for your kindness and generosity in providing me with a safe place to stay during my period of ‘homelessness.’ I have mixed feelings about using the term ‘homeless’ to describe my time at the Brother Francis Shelter because while there, I felt I had a safe, functional home and indeed a caring family.”
His thank you underlines one of our goals at CSS as we work to provide emergency shelter for those who are experiencing homelessness. We strive to make people feel safe, secure and, indeed, part of a functional home and a caring family. We try to do this by providing a secure environment that empowers them to take control of their own lives. This is not easy. With limited staff and resources we operate on a relatively small budget. We recognize that safety and security are of primary importance to our employees, our clients and to those of us in leadership at CSS. We understand that time spent strengthening relationships is one of the most effective means to create an atmosphere of community and safety. Our employees embrace their role in building strong relationships with our clients. We also work to create an environment that supports our clients by helping them to empower themselves. We offer case management to all of our clients and see this as the proverbial “hand up.”
Case management is truly the ladder out of homelessness. Our case managers develop solid relationships with clients and then in a very informed way, are able to help connect them with jobs, homes or treatment services.
Until a few weeks ago CSS was grappling with the potential loss of a state grant that would have meant losing most of our case managers including those who work with clients at the Brother Francis Shelter. The loss of those grants would not only mean losing jobs for our staff, but also cutting our agency’s ability to fully live out our mission, and to provide resources and assistance to our residents to help break the cycle of homelessness. Governor Walker and his office worked to expand the budget and include funding for our case management as part of grants to support homeless service in Alaska. We are very grateful. We extend our gratitude as well to the legislature, who have kept these funds in the state budget to date, and to the CSS Board and partners who worked to educate lawmakers about this important work.
At a low point in his life our former client had a brush with homelessness. As a community, we the citizens of Anchorage were able to help him through the Brother Francis Shelter. Should he ever develop that need again, the Brother Francis Shelter, the staff and the case managers will be there. As part of his thank you, he has offered to give back to the community which was there for him. He will share his time and talents to help others at the shelter. What a testament to our community and to the staff and case managers and to the Brother Francis Shelter.
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit cssalaska.org.