Editor’s note: This article was published in the March 2023 issue of the North Star Catholic.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Statewide numbers of homeless people have jumped for those seeking emergency shelter, but Kodiak, thanks to the help of St. Mary’s Church, is heading off the crisis by staying proactive to grant prevention help.
About 60 individuals and 38 households were reported homeless at the most recent Point in Time Count, a measure used to gather data on how many people are homeless at a given time, said Susan Smith, the administrator at Brother Francis in Kodiak.
“Housing is tight. We can’t find the housing for everyone that needs housing, and there’s a dollar limit on what we can do. Everyone has raised their rent,” Smith said. “Finding reasonable rent in Kodiak is probably the most difficult right now.”
But more troubling is the number of children. Some 122 kids ages 0-17 years were counted as homeless in Kodiak in 2022, according to statewide data collected by the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. The number jumps to 168 in some type of program for homeless individuals when the 18-24 age group is added in. The city of Kodiak’s overall 5,471 population places it as 21st in Alaska’s lineup of cities, meaning the figures impacting children are of concern because it shows families there are in crisis, said Owen Hutchinson, communications director for Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness.
Father Mark Stronach, the priest of St. Mary’s Parish, said the small island church can only do so much to help. But Smith credits the parish with major support of gifts and donations. The Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center also receives support from St. Mary’s.
“One of the things we do is use the Pastor’s Discretionary Fund,” Fr. Stonach said. “You can prevent homelessness on that end. We’ve used that for rent for individuals, but it’s always a case-by-case basis.”
They have paid rent for a few individuals and provided support services that included towing possessions to a shelter to prevent a renter’s loss of property or paying utility bills. Usually, the connection is a Catholic individual but not always, Fr. Stonach said.
“On the preventative side, we’re trying to make sure someone doesn’t end up out of their house,” Fr. Stonach said. “Our 150 Catholic individuals (in the parish) isn’t enough. Everything is expensive in Kodiak and we have to work with other agencies.”
It makes a big difference, Smith said. St. Mary’s is a major partner for the Brother Francis Shelter and the Kodiak Women’s Resource and Crisis Center. For those seeking emergency shelter on a nightly basis, the numbers have been stable.
For about six months, the dinner served at Brother Francis has seen 18 to 22 individuals a night, Smith said, while only about 10 individuals – male and female – have sought to spend the night at the shelter. The nature of Kodiak as a commercial fishing and transportation hub for southwest Alaska – it‘s ranked among the top in the country – means there’s a large population of individuals who work in the canneries that operate there seasonally or year-round, Smith said.
“We can help with a month of rent for parents who work in the cannery or if a cannery hasn’t worked for a month,” Smith said. “We’ve paid for 100 gallons of oil to help a family get by. If kids at school are always coming in cold and hungry, and we’ve found out later it’s because they are out of fuel in their home, we’ve even delivered fuel to their home and groceries.”
Fr. Stonach said it all makes a difference in their small community. “We can watch out for one another,” he said.