Catholic Social Services sees influx of requests from Alaskans in need

Published: Jun. 17, 2016 at 8:57 AM AKDT
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For Lisa Aquino, Executive Director of Catholic Social Services in Anchorage, the most common issue she sees is homelessness.

"Brother Francis Shelter, I can tell you, is full," she said.

Brother Francis Shelter was established in 1982, and provides temporary, emergency shelter for men and women, along with an evening meal, use of shower and laundry facilities, case management services, advocacy, job readiness, and referrals for employment, permanent housing, mental health issues, as well as treatment options for alcohol and substance abuse.

In 2015, the shelter provided 97,936 nights of stay and served 69,902 dinners to thousands of people without a home.

And it's full.

"In this economy, it's very hard to have any extra cushion," Aquino said. "One episode of bad luck, one medical emergency or family death can really wipe an individual or family out."

So, CSS tries to offer an array of services so people can move forward. That's what they're doing at Brother Francis and Clare House. People who go into the food pantry at the Main Center are often using their food money to pay for utilities instead, if they have shelter. Many don't have cash for either.

"We have a lot of different services, but we have a number that are specifically tailored to homelessness," Aquino said. "Right now, that's the crisis in our community. And we just don't have enough places for people to stay."

CSS receives clients from all over: locally, rural Alaska, the Lower 48, even internationally.

"There are people from all over who are just not finding success in the jobs that they're after," Aquino said. "And Anchorage is this great representative sample of all of Alaska, and nationally, because we have such a mix of people. Our service population is very much reflective of Anchorage."

Aquino said the state, Municipality of Anchorage, and a bunch of other social services agencies are trying to come together to curb homelessness in the Last Frontier, but that it remains a huge challenge. Breaking up homeless camps and tearing down fountains isn't going to cut it, but they're a step in the right direction.

"The time is now," she said. "It can be extremely challenging. There's been a real push, and I think we're seeing the Municipality do a lot more than they've been able to do in the past, but there's just not enough places for people to stay. The issue we're really on now is that there are a lot of people that need a place to stay."

As forces join to combat homelessness, CSS celebrates 50 years of service in Alaska in 2016. The group will hold open houses on Friday, June 17, so people can get an inside look at how a few CSS locations work. Light snacks will be served and individuals can meet staff, volunteers and case workers, and learn more about the various services CSS offers.

"We provide so many different kinds of services," Aquino said. "There's a lot happening here every day. It's a really busy place."

CSS runs the two largest emergency shelters in Anchorage, Brother Francis Shelter, for anyone over 18, and Clare House, which is for women and children. The group runs refugee resettlement for the state of Alaska, moving about 130 people each year, according to Aquino. There is also pregnancy assistance, a food pantry, mental health services, transitional housing setup and nonprofit adoption, among other programs.

Two things to keep in mind: CSS assistance is available to anyone and everyone. You don't have to be Catholic, nor do you have to be homeless to receive aid from the group.

"We are the social service arm of the Catholic Church, but really what that means for us is we're guided by Catholic social teachings," Aquino said. "It's really about serving everyone, about inviting all people and connecting and serving those with greatest need. Our services here are for everyone."

The open houses will be at the Catholic Social Services Main Center, Brother Francis Shelter, and Clare House for an Open House Event from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The Main Center is located at 3710 E 20th Ave.; Brother Francis Shelter is at 1021 East 3rd Ave.; and you can find Clare House at 4110 Spenard Road, all in Anchorage.

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