On Cold Nights, Rescue Mission is at Capacity
Small portion of homeless population keeps warm at Gospel Rescue Mission
ANCHORAGE - Only 30 men and 10 women would find shelter at the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission Wednesday night, and every one of them is part of Alaska's growing homeless population.
Researchers estimate that 4,500 people, most of which are in Anchorage, are homeless.
At 3:30 every afternoon a line can be seen outside of the rescue mission. Each individual is waiting his or her turn to grab a bed for the night. It’s the first step in finding warm shelter.
It’s November in Alaska, the temperatures are cool and they all talk about the way the weather feels against their skin.
“I don’t want to be out here,” said 26-year-old Caleb Mailly.
By 4 p.m., the beds are called for and the chapel is full of Alaskans waiting for a home-cooked meal.
Mailly sits on the pew in the first row. He is talking to friends and gazing at a Christmas tree decorated in red decorations and bright lights. He has been on the streets for about eight months and is familiar with the shelters around town.
“Brother Francis is rough,” said Mailly shaking his head. “They don’t have a breathalyzer, so there is a lot of drugs and drunk people.”
The rescue mission, on Tudor Road, has a zero drug and alcohol policy. They said drinking causes too many fights. Each person looking for shelter is required to take a Breathalyzer. If they can’t pass, they will be back in the cold.
“I chose to have fun instead of work,” Maily said, shrugging his shoulders. "I chose not to follow the rules of life -- a job, work. I met the wrong people at the wrong time.”
On Wednesday, he was one of the lucky ones.
“You got the last bed,” said Steve Keppel, shelter client manager. The husky man he is speaking to smiled gratefully and checked his bag in.
All 40 beds were full. According to Keppel, every night five to ten people are turned away. They are hoping to have 25 more beds by January.
Keppel used to be in their shoes, signing in for a bed, going to chapel and eating dinner like this night. They feasted on one of chicken, corn, mashed potatoes, cookies, cakes, candy apples and milk.
“I was a hardcore drinker,” said Keppel. “I used to drink a lot and then became homeless, lost my apartment and ended out on the streets.”
He said years of regret caught up to him and he sobered up 18 months ago.
“Being a disappointment to someone my entire life was just really eating at me bad inside. I knew I had to do something different.”
He said his mother couldn’t count on him. He got diabetes and said at that point his body began shutting down. “It was eye opening.”
Keppel still calls the mission home. He lives in a small apartment on the second floor. He hopes he can be a role model to others.
“I knew some of these people on the streets, when I was using back in the past,” said Keppel, gazing at the homeless walking through the glass doors. “They knew I was [using] back then. [For them] to see how I am now, that really is good -- to get them to come in here and change their lives too.”
Mailly, who is layered in jackets and sweaters, is ready for that change too.
“Asking a girl on a date, you can’t really do that, cause you don’t have anything to…” he trails off, looks around and continues. “You just don’t have anything.”