Catholic Social Services Bracing for Winter

As fall temperatures begin to slide toward lows that could be dangerous for the homeless population in Anchorage, Catholic Social Services has the funds to staff their overflow shelter.  Catholic Social Services Executive Director Susan Bomalaski says a grant from the Fred Meyer employee giving fund and money from the municipality of Anchorage will get them through this winter. But Bomalaski said this Band-Aid-approach is not a good long term solution.

“What we need to look at is what is the reason there’s so many people in homelessness here in Anchorage,” she said. “How much of it is a lack of affordable housing, how much is a lack of treatment, whether it’s mental health treatment or substance abuse treatment. So there needs to be a longer discussion because you know, we’re not really interested in running a shelter, an overflow shelter, out into the future.”

Catholic Social Services runs the Brother Francis shelter, a facility that provides an evening meal and a warm place to sleep for up to 240 people a night. Across the parking lot is Bean’s Cafe, a day shelter that provides lunch, but is also used as an overflow shelter for up to 124 people on cold nights.

The funding shortfall was pieced together with $30,000  from both the Municipality 0f Anchorage and Fred Meyer employees. Zach Stratton is the philantrophy coordinator at Fred Meyer’s Portland headquarters. He said the non-profit fund created by employee giving in four states gives more than a $1 million a year to a variety of causes. Stratton said store employees decide what to fund in their communities. The Anchorage group wanted to help the homeless.

“And they came to us with this and they understand, how big of an issue this homeless issue is in the Anchorage area and with winter approaching and it getting so cold, they thought this was an important issue for us to get involved with and see what we can do at least for a temporary stop gap,” Stratton said. “Federal funds that once paid for staffing the overflow shelter is gone.”

Bomalaski said the drop in federal funds comes at a time when they’ve seen a 20% increase in the number of individuals served.

“Five years ago, 2008, we served about 3000 and through the end of 2012, we served 3,600.” she said. “So there’s a big increase and we’re trying to figure out what’s that about.”

She said that although they see Alaska citizens from other parts of the state landing on hard times in Anchorage, more are coming from outside the state. “Even just as soon as last weekend, you see six, six or seven people a day coming from Outside, you know that’s quite a few.”

Bomalaski said they survey the people who seek help, asking them for their last zip code.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for Alaska Public Media. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for nearly 30 years. Radio brought her to Alaska, where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting before accepting a reporting/host position with APRN in 2003. APRN merged with Alaska Public Media a year later. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters.