Anchorage homelessness a ‘growing community concern’


Recently there have been many stories in the news about homelessness and public safety. The actions and stories have run the gamut from extreme reactions to more reasonable, but urgent appeals. These stories highlight growing community concern and anger. I hope they also represent a desire to be a part of change. We, as a community, can unite and make a positive impact on our community, but it will require us to put aside our preconceived notions and find agreement on what is most important for our community.

For over 35 years, Catholic Social Services has served those who face the incredible challenge of homelessness. We have seen the numbers of people in this dire situation increase, the spaces that they can inhabit decrease, and the complex needs of people experiencing homelessness grow. Because of this we sounded the alarm. Changes at shelters were made to assure greater levels of staffing to serve more people and those with higher acuity. We also saw this issue needed more focus and strategic thinking. Two years ago, the board of trustees of Catholic Social Services made our focus to prevent and end homelessness.

Our mission clearly calls us to serve the most vulnerable and advocate for social justice. To be homeless is to be vulnerable at a basic level. This is an issue that requires advocacy because the solutions require system changes, policies to support the work and multi-level partnerships.

At Catholic Social Services we have worked to strengthen the coordinated community effort, elevate the volume of the voices of the voiceless and serve all who are being impacted by this situation. Last year over 480 of our clients went from homelessness to housing, and we created more robust services within Brother Francis Shelter and our other programs serving this population.

Those in homelessness are not a monolithic group, and so the issue requires a variety of different kinds of actions. People do not all become homeless in the same way. For those who live close to poverty, the luxury of a monetary safety net is one they cannot afford. In the face of a challenging situation, like a death in the family or a medical problem, a lack of savings and community relationships places some at high risk of not being able to secure their basic needs — shelter and food. It could be any of us — individuals and families, young and old. Others in homelessness struggle with mental health issues, and the system in our state that provides treatment is underfunded and full of gaps. Some are people who are self-medicating with drugs and alcohol or struggling with addiction. There are simply not enough treatment services in our state.

Additionally, there are people in homelessness who depend on criminal activities. That is not acceptable in our community and as we address each of the individuals in homelessness and look at the larger issues, this must be clear to all. Behavior that is violent to our neighbors, either in person or in property, must not be tolerated and our laws must be followed.

As we strive together as a community to address this complex issue, let us focus on interventions that prioritize housing, jobs, social support and friendship. We live in a world where we are becoming more and more polarized, and it is becoming more difficult to comfortably work together towards compromise and solutions. That is where the true work is.

At Catholic Social Services, we are here with you, trying to find solutions for all in our community. Thank you to those who make their voices heard. Please continue to constructively bring ideas and challenges to the table so we can work together on solutions.

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


'Anchorage homelessness a ‘growing community concern’'
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