Imagine you have no place to call home on a cold night in Anchorage. Even if you can take refuge at the Brother Francis Shelter or the Gospel Rescue Mission, there’s more to the cold than the ambient temperature. The shiver afflicts the spirit.
Now imagine you have no place to call home on a cold night in Anchorage and you have children, who are looking to you to make things right, who are looking to you when they’re cold and hungry, and who see your doubt and fear, and you struggle to shelter them from it all.
And then imagine that the city’s family shelters are full. Now, what can you do?
You can go to church.
That’s because of nine Anchorage churches, backed by 11 congregations and more than 100 volunteers, alternate to shelter families with bed and board every night of the week from October into May as the city’s Emergency Cold Weather Shelter. One way or another, there is always room at the inn.
The shelter program began in 2010 in response to the city’s family shelters – Clare House, McKinnell House, and Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) – running full, leaving too many families with nowhere to turn, leaving children to sleep out in the cold in cars or worse.
United Way of Anchorage and partners sought a practical, swift solution to keep families warm and together and started by looking at our existing community assets. Churches stepped forward. They had buildings and volunteers. Together, we worked with the city to meet fire and safety codes. Established by ordinance, sustained by the simple call to love thy neighbor, the churches became part of the city’s continuum of care for families experiencing homelessness. Along with shelter, families can get connected with services to help them find permanent housing.
Donors to United Way of Anchorage fund program coordination, transportation for families, and Alaska 2-1-1, which refers families to AWAIC. AWAIC, in turn, connects the family to the church providing shelter for the night.
“It’s been wonderful to see how churches have responded to the need,” said program coordinator Dave Kuiper. “I don’t think we’ve had any church stop since they’ve started. It kind of gets in their blood.”
Churches vary in what they can offer; some can muster a hot buffet and showers. But every church strives for a warm welcome and a night’s sanctuary from the relentless navigation of homelessness and its grind of anxiety.
As a result, for eight straight winters, no child in Anchorage has had to sleep out in the cold.
Eight straight years of kids warm and with their families testify to the power of compassion and partnerships and encourages us that we as a community can scale up even further to benefit more people in Anchorage who need shelter.