Outgoing Catholic Social Services CEO shares thoughts on solving Anchorage’s homelessness problem

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 5:37 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Friday was the last day on the job for Lisa Aquino. After seven years as CEO for Catholic Social Services in Alaska, Aquino is getting ready to transition into her new job as CEO of Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.

Aquino sat down with Alaska’s News Source to talk about the work CSS does with people experiencing homelessness, which is a big part of the charity’s mission. While she’s proud of the work CSS has done, Aquino said she doesn’t see the need declining any time soon.

“I think the reason that homelessness continues to be an issue is because it’s a symptom of really complex problems that are really hard to fix,” she said.

Aquino said the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more people into homelessness, but she’s concerned the numbers will increase if the focus of services doesn’t include the issues that can lead them there.

“To really get ahead of it and address it we have to talk about things like housing, and how expensive housing is. You can’t work a minimum wage job and afford to live in Anchorage, or in most cities,” Aquino said. “There’s something wrong there.”

“Another really critical systematic challenge is our behavioral health system, you know,” she continued. “There’s so many gaps in that, and that’s not because we don’t have excellent behavioral health clinicians, we do. It’s because the system isn’t properly funded across the board.”

Aquino said more resources will be needed to prevent people from becoming homeless as well as helping them to move through it as quickly as possible when they do. One thing she finds encouraging is that providers are working together, and that funds from city government are part of the mix. She believes the state should be providing resources as well.

“I think there’s some great partnerships and the abilities that we have when we all come to the table together,” she said. “So I’m excited about where we are right now, and I hope that that work continues.”

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