Brother Francis outbreak highlights need for rapid rehousing, providers say

Rehousing has the potential to reduce congregate shelter and get people out of homelessness
Published: Sep. 6, 2020 at 10:13 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The coronavirus pandemic has forced homeless service providers around the country to reexamine how they do their jobs, and Anchorage is no different. As Catholic Social Services continues to try and contain the outbreak at Brother Francis Shelter, they’re considering in the short term how to use CARES funds directed to them by the governor, and in the long term how to avoid a similar outbreak.

Lisa Aquino, CEO of Catholic Social Services, said the intent for the money is to aid in the quarantine process.

“These funds are to help people who are really struggling with substance misuse and addiction while also being asked to isolate and quarantine,” she said.

Governor Mike Dunleavy committed the funds Friday, and Aquino said they’re working to iron out a plan.

“I’m really looking forward to working with behavioral health experts with the State of Alaska to figure out what the best way to do that is,” Aquino said.

In the longer-term, Aquino, and other members of the homeless services community are pointing to rapid rehousing as a way to reduce congregate shelter, especially as shelters like Brother Francis and the Sullivan Arena fill up for the Fall and Winter.

“We see on the dashboard that we’re at or near census for the past couple of weeks,” said Assembly Member Meg Zaletel, who represents midtown. “And so unless we want to not have people sheltered, or look at another location, we’re gonna have to get folks housed and out of shelter.”

While the Anchorage Assembly was considering its plan for the Municipality’s CARES funds, Zaletel sponsored and amendment, which passed, to allocate $1 million towards a rapid rehousing program. Officials pointed to that program as one of the main things that will alleviate enough pressure on the city’s shelter capacity that the Ben Boeke Ice Arena would not be turned back into a mass shelter.

“It’s a big gap we have, according to the gap analysis by the coalition,” she said, referring to the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness’s Gap Analysis, which attempts to find the biggest holes in Anchorage’s continuum of care. “So the money we can put into that, I think really then lets us create - out of shelter - a basic safety net.”

Aquino said that Catholic Social Services is also the city’s largest rehousing agent, and since April they’ve been operating off a grant from the Rasmussen Foundation to upscale rehousing efforts. She added that she expects it to continue to be important in the coming months.

“Nationally, they anticipate there’ll be a 40% increase in homelessness because of COVID and the economic downturn because of COVID,” she said.

Even beyond the pandemic, Aquino said rehousing is one of the most effective ways to prevent someone just entering homelessness from experiencing again.

“We can turn it right around,” she said. “So let’s get them right back into housing, let’s connect them with employment services, and get them back on track.”

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