Women and children in Alaska face homelessness every day. It’s a cruel fact the staff and volunteers at Clare House work hard to combat.
Sharese Hughes started at Clare House eight years ago as a case manager and now serves as director. Under Sharese’s management, the program has made incredible strides, including extending emergency shelter stays, expanding year-round cold weather shelter, and improving advocacy for the women and children who live there.
“Our goal is to provide a safe, welcoming place from the beginning,” says Sharese. “When a woman comes to us, she’s in crisis. We give her space to take a breath and regroup so she can process what is happening. Then, we help her make a plan to do something about it.”
The 24-hour/day program offers 24 emergency shelter rooms with 111 beds, plus space for cribs. Clare House also provides progressive housing for women and families who stay longer term. While shelter service is critical, it’s the support services that empower women to work toward stable futures.
Case managers like Mercy Pulou use intake forms to help understand clients’ immediate needs, but then it’s all about relationships. Getting to know each woman’s background, situation and dreams for the future, allows Mercy to help implement plans to help women reach their goals.
“It takes time,” Mercy says. “Sometimes you have to work on smaller goals before addressing larger ones. Sometimes ladies don’t think it’s okay to ask for what they need because of what has happened in their pasts. I reassure them they can ask. And that I will advocate for them.”
Clare House case managers connect women to resources like public assistance, employment and child care, help navigate these processes and work through barriers that might prevent housing. Women design their own plans, and case managers support them by helping with value sorts, pinpointing what to work on and making updates as circumstances evolve.
“We remind them they’re strong and resilient,” Sharese says. “So many families come here broken and lost with no support system. Their hope has been shattered so often, sometimes they just need to see they have a future before they can take the first step.
“So many people in field forget to treat these women like humans,” Sharese says through teary eyes. “We’re here to help, not create new barriers. To make a difference, we must build and preserve people’s dignity and respect.”
Every situation, person and family is different. Clare House staff work to help clients find the tools they need to be successful, in a way that can be received and put to use.
It’s hard work. More importantly, it’s heart work.