Packed Shelters Call on Local Churches
Several local churches are working as temporary overflow shelters during the coldest winter months.
With temperatures hovering below zero for weeks at a time, Anchorage social service groups are struggling to find enough warm beds for the city’s homeless.
“Let’s put it this way: We can’t turn them away,” said Jim Crockett, Executive Director of local soup kitchen-turned-shelter Bean’s Cafe “We might be illegal a few nights, but we’re not going to send somebody out in the snow.”
Preferring to flout local zoning code rather than see a single person go without shelter, Crockett said the problem of homelessness in Anchorage is persistent and, in the winter months, sometimes deadly.
While the non-profit Bean’s Café traditionally only provides meals, not shelter, Crockett said they are legally allowed to house 142 people per night when the neighboring Brother Francis Shelter reaches its capacity of 240.
Many nights, they surpass the limit.
“This is not a Bean’s Café problem,” he said. “This is a city problem, and a state problem.”
Municipal officials agree.
Darrel Hess, Homeless Coordinator with the Department of Health and Human Services, said Saturday his agency is considering other options for the nights when Anchorage’s other shelters are full.
One alternative? Hess said several local churches have successfully applied as temporary cold weather shelters under the municipality’s cold weather plan. They’ve kept busy.
“Since the first of the year it’s gotten really cold, I know one church had ten or eleven people one night, and another had seven or eight,” Hess said.
Those churches – Central Lutheran, Changepoint, Anchorage City Church and Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church – coordinate with municipal social service groups to take in those left out in the cold by overflowing shelters.
Crockett said they're are not enough.
“We need more support, we need more churches, and we need more contingency plans to help us get the results we need,” he said.
With an obvious need, he said it’s time for the community to step up and step in.