Brother Francis Shelter may be left out in the cold this winter

Gov. Mike Dunleavy recently reduced funding to Brother Francis Shelter on June 28, making funding for the homeless of Alaska uncertain as winter approaches.

Brother Francis was closed Aug. 1 for four days and then reopened with the capacity diminished from 240 people to 100. The amount of $5.8 million cut from homeless services includes homeless shelters, drug addiction treatment, food banks and Medicaid. 

Dunleavy also cut $1.37 million in funding from Catholic Social Services, or CSS. After these cuts, the city braced for a housing and public health crisis. On June 24, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz declared a “Civil Emergency” for the city of Anchorage.

Graffiti near Valley of the Moon Park holds Gov. Dunleavy responsible for the increase in homelessness. Photo by Jason Herr.

This is an unprecedented decision for an unprecedented situation. Existing shelters have lost funding at a time when demand for their services is predicted to skyrocket,” Berkowitz said in a press release.

The Anchorage Assembly shifted $400,000 to Brother Francis to allow services to resume. Nancy Burke, Anchorage Housing and Homeless Services Coordinator, explained how these funds were meant for the fall when temperatures start to drop.

“What we did is we used the money [meant] for fall for when it gets cold, for our overflow shelter. We’re basically using the winter’s money now,” Burke said in an interview with KTVA.

This means that additional funding for the shelter is unsure as winter approaches. Women, children, elderly and disabled citizens might not have shelter at some point during the colder months. Nina Sellers, 72, stays at shelters primarily in winter and camps in the summer. She shares Burke’s concerns about possibly not having shelter when temperatures freeze.

A group of homeless individuals are camped outside of Anchorage’s Brother Francis Shelter. Photo by Christina Swayney.
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“It’s fine now. I camp in the parks and the woods. When it gets real cold though, and there is no shelter to get warm, that is when people die,” Sellers said.

Though Alaska’s financial situation is currently unstable, people can help or contribute to those in need in different ways.

Homeless camps have begun to form around the Brother Francis Shelter. Photo by Christina Swayney.

There are countless volunteer opportunities at Brother Francis Shelter. The shelter also accepts donations of necessities, including toiletries, clothing and food. Cash and check donations are welcome as well. 

The Anchorage Coalition for Homelessness has numerous ways to get involved. Donations can be made directly at Pick.Click.Give. 

Volunteering is also an option and there are many different opportunities that can be matched to specific volunteer interests via The United Way. 

Clare House is an emergency shelter for women and children in Spenard and is currently in urgent need of volunteers to work three-hour shifts. Duties include answering phone calls, signing off on chores, answering the door intercom, processing donations, helping in the kitchen and interacting with adults and children in the program, according to the Clare House website. 

The University of Alaska Anchorage has its own organizations that support students in need. UAA Hunger and Homelessness Support Network, or HHSN, gives students assistance and support.

Another group on campus, UAA Fusion, connects students with volunteer opportunities in the Anchorage community. Volunteers also receive certificates for their service.

UAA offers a list of different volunteer events and opportunities. Organizations that are available to volunteer with are The Salvation Army, Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, Covenant House and more. 

Students can also organize food or clothing drives in order to assist the homeless. These events can be held at UAA, a church or a local neighborhood center. There are guides online to help create drives and the use of social media can help in getting people involved.

Anchorage Chair Felix Rivera places her hope in the people of Anchorage assisting each other in a time of need.

“Now, more than ever, we must come together as a community — as we did during the Nov. 30, 2018 earthquake — to help our neighbors, each other and our city,” Rivera said in a press release on the Anchorage Municipality site.