Anchorage homeless services coordinating to meet winter needs

Anchorage social service agencies are coordinating efforts to provide safe shelter for people experiencing homelessness, and strategies are already in place to deal with the upcoming extreme cold spell.

“A lot of great partnership is happening this winter when it comes to insuring that men and women experiencing homelessness have some where to go,” said Lisa Caldeira, director of the Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage.

She said the 240-bed facility and its 20-person overflow shelter have been at or near capacity much of this winter. When that happens, BFS staff coordinate with other shelters to find beds. This year, the Downtown Soup Kitchen Hope Center has space for 50 women. It previously only housed people participating in their programs.

For the first time ever, Bean’s Cafe is open 24 hours a day and their staff are providing overnight shelter for 50 men. Many of the overnight guests are participants in Bean’s new workforce development program. But Bean’s Executive Director Lisa Sauder said they are also making space for other overflow and for men who have mental health issues that make it hard for them to stay in larger, louder shelters.

“We’ve had success getting people to come in and stay with us that in the past were unwilling to come into shelter,” she said.

In previous years Bean’s Cafe was used as overflow for 124 people from Brother Francis Shelter. That changed after an incident last year which caused the soup kitchen to close for two weeks. An injured man bled on the floor, and the blood was neither correctly cleaned up nor reported properly.

Covenant House, Anchorage’s only shelter for young people under 18, is also at or near capacity and has been since the summer. Executive Director Alison Kear said they are housing close to 60 young people every night and helping their older clients connect with other shelters instead.

Caldeira said this year’s total bed capacity across the different organizations is similar to previous winters.