Anything Helps

It is no surprise that the Anchorage Municipality has a big homelessness problem. As of January 2018, Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that 2,016 people were “experiencing homelessness on any given day.” In Anchorage, the homelessness problem seems to only be getting worse as this number reaches 1,272.

Despite these daunting numbers, there are plenty of organizations ready and willing to help out those in need. Many of the organizations are churches, ready to share God’s grace to those who need it, while also attempting to rehabilitate those who accept their services. Other organizations get the rougher side of the homeless scene, with a less-than-jovial atmosphere for those who are too intoxicated to be allowed in their facilities. The homeless scene is not pretty, but the stories of those who are willing to help gives hope to those who are genuinely looking for a better life.

Doing More, Helps More

The Emergency Cold Weather Shelter is one of many programs that St. John United Methodist Church offers to those in need. The program allocates room within the church facilities for women, children and families that are simply looking for a place to stay when Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis is unable to house them. The program is active once a month, but starting in January 2020, the program will be active twice a month, says Judith Goodrum, the preschool director of New Horizons Preschool. 

Sheltering those who need a roof is just the surface of St. John’s efforts in aiding those in the community. The Food Bank of Alaska has recently reached out to St. John to request a very interesting food donation.

At the request of the Foodbank of Alaska, St. John’s United Methodist Church collected 1,000 cans of green beans. Photo by Radames Mercado.

“Another thing that this community is doing currently is they’re participating. The Food Bank of Alaska asked them to collect a thousand cans of green beans,” Goodrum said. “The church already has a thousand cans of green beans.”

The Food Bank of Alaska also sends a Mobile Food Pantry to St. John, which typically serves about 40 families. St. John sets up the mobile pantry in the parking lot at around 5 p.m., allowing families in need to collect frozen foods, vegetables and fruits, dairy and occasionally meats. Once all the families are given their respective portions, they are allowed to come back in a continuous rotation until all the food has been distributed, Goodrum said.

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“St. John does quite a bit in the community, and that’s one of the reasons — probably the primary reason — that I’m here.” Goodrum said. “It’s not about personal salvation. It’s more about being involved in the community and what you can do for the community.”

Even the Less Fortunate Need Fun

“On Tuesday, we have bingo night,” Monica Martinez, the Shelter and Shower director of the Downtown Soup Kitchen, said. “It lasts for about two and a half hours, and the women win all kinds of stuff.”

Monica Martinez, director of the Downtown Soup Kitchen, incorporates fun activities as a part of the community. Photo by Radames Mercado.

The Downtown Soup Kitchen, also known as the Downtown Hope Center, is a shelter with showers for the single women of Anchorage who need a safe place to stay in times of need. This facility doesn’t operate solely as a shelter, though. It provides a place of entertainment and spirituality for those who are in desperate need to stay positive. The shelter generally has around 50 women staying there for a safe place.

“Out of the 50 women that we have, probably 30 play the game. More than half,” Martinez said.

Bingo isn’t the only event the shelter has for the needy. Every Monday, the women in the facilities get together and have a Bible study session. On Fridays, Martinez explained that they do karaoke and testimony night for the women that rely on the shelter’s grace.

All of these events, the food that is given to the women and the ability to fund these resources come from donations. The donations the soup kitchen receives are enough to keep the 15 people that work in the shelter on a good payroll. The Hope Center gets roughly $20,000 every two weeks to make sure the staff can do their job properly.

This payroll and donations keep the center alive and well. The Harley-Davidson organization donated 25 turkeys to the Hope Center for Thanksgiving. The Downtown Hope Center plans to focus many of their endeavors to make sure that they can help those who really need help during this seasonal time of gratitude.

“[The] plan of action is to show these people love,” Martinez said. “They [ate] a nice, warm meal on Thanksgiving.”

A Soul Well Fed

The Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission is a faith-based organization set on giving the needy in Anchorage more than just a shelter, it wants to give a better life. The shelter offers a drug and alcohol recovery program. About 30 men are typically enrolled into this program in an attempt to rehabilitate them, Shane Day, the facilities manager of the Rescue Mission, said.

The Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission often provides TV and movie entertainment in the worship room. Photo by Radames Mercado.

The shelter itself is capable of housing 100 people a night. Every Monday and Friday night is clothing night, where about 180 people come through every week.

“The people that come to the Mission for help leave well-fed. They are full. They are very happy,” Rev. John LaMantia, the Rescue Mission’s executive director and pastor, said. “A lot of the folks that come to us on Thanksgiving [are] people that actually are working full time. They cannot make ends meet.”

80-100 people typically attend the daily gospel services that the Rescue Mission provides, LaMantia said. He hopes that the people attending accept and take to heart what they hear so they can feel hope again in their lives. 

Support for the Rescue Mission’s cause isn’t limited to the state. Day stated that there are organizations and people that are out of state who donate and support the Rescue Mission. The public’s support for the Rescue Mission has allowed it to continue giving aid for over 40 years.

“Our mission statement is ‘a meal, a bed, a soul well fed,’” Day said. “That’s what you’re going to get here. Even if you don’t stay here, the showers are open to you. We’ll do your laundry for you. A lot of homeless guys just don’t have the means to do their laundry. I know when I was homeless, I didn’t.”

The Grim Reality

These organizations and many others around the Anchorage Municipality are doing what they can to make sure homeless citizens are getting the help they need. Unfortunately, there are those who are harder to take care of. Bean’s Café, a food program here in Anchorage, recently started its push to help those in need with a revitalized shelter program.

Entering the facility shows a different, less uplifting truth. Most of the other organizations are able to refuse entry to those that were not sober, with Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission even requiring a breathalyzer test to incoming recipients. Bean’s Café may not require a breathalyzer, but they do require a pat-down. 

In the center of the facility were “bunk beds” lining the main floor. They were more like cots than beds, and several homeless people, men and women, occupied them. A bouncer blocked the entry into the facility, requiring that each individual be pat down to make sure no harmful substances or weapons were brought in.

“She can’t be on that bunk,” the speakers in the room boomed. One of the volunteers spoke to a homeless individual in the room who was intoxicated and causing a ruckus.

“Nobody cares” shouted one of the individuals slouching over in the dining room area.

The scene then escalated, as the woman was forced to leave. Her screams and shouts carried with her as she was guided out of the building. Once outside, she began to scream about finding a gun and ending her life. 

This is the reality in Anchorage. The community lends its support through volunteering and donations on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there is more that needs to be done.