*Originally featured in the North Star Catholic

On August 26th, Catholic Social Services was excited to celebrate Brother Francis Shelter’s 40th Anniversary with the community at the new 3rd Avenue Resource & Navigation Center. Many of our long-time supporters and friends joined in reminiscing on the early days of Brother Francis Shelter, Anchorage’s first emergency shelter, which opened its doors officially in 1983.

The shelter got its start in response to tragedy in our community – the growing number of injuries and deaths Anchorage was facing at that time due to lack of homelessness services was intolerable. Archbishop Francis Hurley recognized the need for a solution to this issue, and invited two Brothers operating out of Spokane, Washington, to come up and meet some of the people experiencing homelessness in Anchorage. Brother Bob Eaton and Brother Dave Sifferman came to Anchorage and immediately began the work of bringing together many private and public partners in the community to work on the creation of a shelter.

Before Brother Francis Shelter officially got started, the Brothers and the Archdiocese established a ‘warming center’ on West 4th Ave. After some back and forth with the other partners in the working group, the Archdiocese finally decided to lease space from the Alaska Court System. As Brother Bob described it to the Anchorage Daily News at the time, this was not to be a formal shelter: “It’s not going to be a dormitory, since there are no beds, but it will be a place to come in out of the cold.”

This preliminary warming center was eventually shut down by the city and people moved to camping on land owned by the railroad. Soon they were evicted from there too. In response, a Park Strip campout was organized by Brother Bob and Brother Dave to bring attention to the city’s lack of services. The Brothers stayed on the Park Strip in solidarity with their neighbors while they continued to work on a solution.

Finally, Brother Francis Shelter opened in its current location on October 4th, 1983, on the same day of the Feast of St. Francis. The story of the beginnings of Anchorage’s first shelter echoes down to us from the past, a poignant reminder that events often repeat themselves. Just as we were in 1983, our community is now at a crossroads. Once again, we are lacking services for our neighbors and once again the price for this lack of services is high. We must take heart in this example of public and private partnerships bringing solutions to our community. We know that we can bring dignity and compassion to our neighbors when they need it most.

Since Brother Francis Shelter’s initial opening, many members of our wonderful community have contributed to its growth and development – it has truly been a community effort from the very beginning. Since opening Brother Francis Shelter, we have expanded our homelessness services to include two more shelters – Clare House and Complex Care – along with many other supportive services including the new 3rd Avenue Resource & Navigation Center, and case management services.

Brother Francis Shelter remains Anchorage’s only low-barrier shelter currently operating, meaning it is the only shelter providing walk-up services for our neighbors. The shelter’s 40th Anniversary serves as a perfect time to reflect on our community’s success in stepping up to find solutions for our neighbors in 1983, in creating a better Anchorage for everyone. Thank you for supporting Brother Francis Shelter through the years – we are honored to serve our community for the next 40 years to come!

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