Homeless services providers face new challenges in upcoming cold season

Shelters have seen max capacity the past few weeks
 Bean's Cafe sign
Bean's Cafe sign (KTUU)
Published: Sep. 18, 2020 at 9:14 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s move toward the chillier season is going to mean more challenges for homeless services providers, particularly as groups navigate operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

“People are coming to us for help,” said Lisa Sauder of Bean’s Cafe, a longtime provider in Anchorage. “They are coming to connect with resources, they’re coming to shower, they’re coming for shelter.”

Already, hundreds of people utilize shelters in Anchorage each night. At the Sullivan Arena alone, 376 beds are available and full each evening, according to Bean’s Cafe spokesperson Matt Waliszek, but that’s even before temperatures falling below freezing are more often than not.

“That’s the largest number in Alaska right now,” Waliszek said. “We receive people until we fill up, and we fill up pretty much nightly.”

Factor in a pandemic and things get even more complicated. Coronavirus cases have been a big concern, amplified by hundreds of positive cases in the homeless community, with at least 216 confirmed cases identified in transient members of the community, according to the Municipality of Anchorage. Fifty of those were in the last ten days, which means those individuals would still be able to transmit the virus.

“At Brother Francis Shelter, because we’ve separated people with space, our current capacity is around 72 people,” said Catholic Social Services' Lisa Aquino. “Ten of those are beds for discharge from hospital, so that number is lower.”

The usual capacity from earlier in the pandemic was around 114 at BFS, Aquino said.

As for the future, providers from across town said that aside from keeping people healthy and housed, a main focus is getting people into homes of their own. That should provide stability for some of those individuals who are without homes of their own right now, and also open up services at shelters around the city.

“We really need to free up some beds,” Sauder said, “and the best way to do that is to get people housed.”

Shelters and local providers could use several items these days to help cover the needs of those staying in area shelters. At the Sullivan Arena, for example, fresh socks and blankets are provided when they are available. All of Catholic Social Services' locations need gloves, cleaners, hand soap, sanitizer, and laundry detergent.

For more information about CSS, click here. To help with Bean’s Cafe’s efforts in supporting the homeless, head to this website.

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