July is the beginning of a new year. Not the traditional New Year, but a new financial year for those of us who are on a fiscal year calendar. When I look back at the last year for Catholic Social Services, there are great successes to recount and challenges that were overcome. It was a good year for us in many ways, and we celebrate that with our larger community of donors and volunteers who make all of this happen.
There were also difficulties this year. It was very challenging for the state government. We all watched as programs and services had to be cut to account for the drop in the price of oil. It feels good to be past that but I think we all know that next year may be equally challenging or more so. As we prepare for that at Catholic Social Services, we think about where we can best and most effectively use our resources to do the most for those in need. We are asking ourselves that question and hope that all of you will be a part of answering it with us.
In June, we participated in providing feedback to the Transition Team on Homelessness that was called by the incoming mayor of Anchorage, Ethan Berkowitz. As a part of those meetings, partners from around our community who are working on issues related to homelessness came together to talk about solutions. There are solutions to homelessness; there are communities in this country where homelessness has been eliminated. Perhaps Anchorage can be next. We hope and pray this could happen.
We at Catholic Social Services play an important part in reducing homelessness in our community. We are the largest providers of emergency shelter, through the Brother Francis Shelter — which serves adults age 18 and over and sleeps 250 every night, and the Clare House — which serves women with children, and serves over 100 individuals every night. Both are nearly always at capacity and often have a wait list.
We are more than emergency shelters though. Critical work is happening at both shelters and also with individuals out in the community, to reduce homelessness through our Homeless Family Services program. This program is made up of case workers who assist individuals who are currently homeless or in immediate danger of becoming homeless. Case workers meet each individual personally to find out their specific needs. It may be medical care or mental health treatment, substance abuse services, support in finding a job or help finding an apartment. The goal of our case managers is to secure permanent housing for our clients. We work to get them in apartments around town, and then stay connected with them.
It’s challenging work, but a proven practice in reducing homelessness. The key is connecting each client to the right resources and working towards the goal of stable housing.
Reducing homelessness in Anchorage will require coordination, communication and teamwork – this was evident from the Transition Team meetings. Catholic Social Services has a nearly 50-year history of demonstrating those three characteristics, and I know we are up to the challenge now. I hope to work with all of you reading this in the larger effort to end homelessness in Anchorage.
I leave you with a recent quote from Pope Francis: “To love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete: it means seeing in every person the face of the Lord to be served, to serve him concretely.”
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit cssalaska.org.