After 10 years on the streets, short-term housing is found during the COVID-19 pandemic

Roger Williams and Lucy Tall hug a caseworker from Beans Cafe who helped them find short-term...
Roger Williams and Lucy Tall hug a caseworker from Beans Cafe who helped them find short-term housing.(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 21, 2020 at 7:09 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Roger Williams and Lucy Tall wipe away tears of gratitude after finding out they’ve been approved for short-term housing.

“Hopefully, it’s going to work into a longer-term place,” Williams says.

The couple have been staying at Ben Boeke Ice Arena during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have been homeless for 10 years and camping outdoors.

On Tuesday morning, they were told they would be moving to a hotel for a week and then into short-term housing.

“We’re very excited to have a roof over our heads,” Williams says.

The couple sat under a pop-up tent in the parking lot of the arena, speaking to a caseworker from Cook Inlet Tribal Council. The tent is also being manned with staff from Beans Cafe and Catholic Social Services.

Lisa Sauder, the CEO of Beans Cafe, says Sullivan Arena and Ben Boeke Ice Arena can safely house 480 people. Hundreds of meals are transported each day from the commercial kitchen at Beans.

With food and shelter supplied, other more persistent challenges can be addressed. “We can then work on the other issues that are keeping them from being housed,” Sauder says.

Williams and Tall say their biggest challenge is alcoholism. They’ve been clean for three months and are resolute on staying that way.

Across town, a steady stream of cars drives up to the Catholic Social Services’ main office. People are picking up boxes of food.

Lisa Aquino, the executive director of Catholic Social Services, says the normal food pantry system doesn’t work safely during the pandemic. With unemployment numbers surging, demand has increased by 50 percent for boxes stuffed with dried goods, fruit, vegetables and meat.

The nonprofit is also thinking longer-term. Aquino says Catholic Social Services has just housed three people with the goal to house 50 more in six months.

“We think it will be a lot quicker than that,” she says, smiling.

For Williams and Tall, the goal is to get their housing situation sorted and find a way to give back. “We’re hoping to get good jobs to be contributing members to society,” Williams says.

Author's note: The broadcast version of this story stated the funding came from Rasmuson Foundation. Multiple funders including Rasmuson Foundation support this work.
Copyright KTUU 2020. All rights reserved.