In an article from the ADN, it was announced that the Sullivan Arena will return to its regular operations in the near future and will not be used as emergency shelter this coming winter. As a community, we are continuing to navigate the repercussions of an ongoing, critical lack of low-barrier shelter to service our neighbors experiencing homelessness – an issue which does not get easier each time our system is put under the strain of a large closure.
Catholic Social Services is working with our partners, fellow providers, and other stakeholders to try to find a way forward which will reflect our commitment to a trauma-informed, client centered framework of care. There are new housing projects in the works, or recently completed projects – such as the Golden Lion – which may help alleviate the pressure currently felt by the programs which make up Anchorage’s homeless response network. But there is still more work to be done.
Low-barrier shelter is the highest priority for our homelessness response network right now, but CSS does not advocate for mass shelter as a sustainable solution to this issue. The hard-won lessons we have learned over the course of Brother Francis Shelter’s many years of operation point to smaller, specialized shelters as the only dignified and sustainable way forward for our community. Smaller shelters which are scattered throughout our community alleviate the pressure put on any one neighborhood to service a large number of people who exceed the population the neighborhood was originally designed for. Complex Care and Clare House also serve as prime examples of the success that smaller shelters have for our guests – ensuring they receive the client-centered, trauma-informed care they deserve.
Like many other social and economic issues found in our society, homelessness comes with its own stigma. With stigma there is often distance from others and a lack of understanding – staying at a shelter is a common experience for many of our neighbors, but not one that the majority of Alaskans can relate to. That’s why it is so important for us to listen to the perspectives of those with lived experience and ask ourselves – if we needed shelter, what type of place would we want to go? Where would we feel welcome? How would it feel to be turned away?
We believe it is important that we all continue to advocate and share our own perspectives on what is best for Anchorage while our community is working together to find solutions. Our community must come together now to care for each other. We must all, every person, every organization, and every neighborhood, take responsibility for the wellbeing of the people who are part of our community and have these conversations together.