Over the past five years at Catholic Social Services, we have been strengthening and fortifying our services for vulnerable people in Anchorage, particularly families and individuals who experience homelessness. We have made these changes out of necessity.
It all began when we noticed a change in our homeless population. Many were older, and more seemed to be struggling with untreated behavioral health challenges. We realized we had to modify our services to better address these problems.
So we expanded our programs that focus on transitioning clients to permanent stability in housing, income and social wellbeing. We increased our hours to create flexibility for our clients so they could meet with caseworkers without altering their job schedules, training programs or medically necessary appointments. We also added staff at Brother Francis Shelter and Clare House to assure safety for both our clients and employees.
These changes have resulted in thousands of changed lives. For instance, just since July 2018, we have housed over 200 families. Our housing model is an evidence-based model called Critical Time Intervention, and already in some of our housing programs we are seeing more than 80 percent of our clients remain in their new homes more than a year after being housed, despite their having often experienced a lifetime of trauma and challenges. These results derive from a strong model, clients’ hard work and caseworkers’ support. They are also a testimony to the impact of this work in Anchorage.
To do this work, Catholic Social Services receives nearly equal parts of our funds from grants, fees for service and donations from you in our community. All three components are critical. As an agency, we are committed to spending every dollar in ways that maximize serving our clients and providing the most we can to them, even while running very close to the margin. For this reason, when an unexpected loss comes, there are no easy answers. Right now, we’re grappling with the possible loss of state grants for services related to homelessness, due to the proposed changes in Alaska’s budget.
Investment in services, like case management for people experiencing homelessness and frontline services at Brother Francis Shelter and Clare House, make a difference in the lives of those we serve as well as in our community. Those 200-plus families who are now housed — and weren’t less than a year ago — can hold jobs, buy their own food and better support their family. Because of our programs, like Homeless Family Services, fewer people are standing on our street corners, needing help because of difficult life challenges, and struggling to keep their kids in school. Instead, they are working and contributing to Anchorage. That was not possible when they were homeless. The services that we and our partners provided supported these people as they moved to permanent stability.
Those who govern are being faced with challenging choices. They are all in my thoughts and prayers. I know they must consider numerous factors, and I hope that they consider both the return on their investment when homelessness is eradicated and the value of caring for the most vulnerable in our state — the sick, the elderly and the children — through a most difficult time.