Brother Francis shelters. Bean's feeds. But when winter settles in come October, Bean's Café makes floor space available to shelter the overflow from the Brother Francis Shelter next door.
For the last two winters it has been a good system serving hundreds of otherwise cold, homeless people. Bean's provides the floor, Brother Francis sends over paid staff and volunteers to keep the watch.
It's not free. Over the past two winters about $71,000 in federal Community Block Grant money administered by the Municipality of Anchorage has covered Bean's costs in providing the extra shelter.
That federal money is gone. The city has no immediate replacement. Susan Bomalaski of Catholic Social Services, which runs the Brother Francis Shelter, said $40,000 would cover the coming winter. That would pay for utilities, supplies and staff so Bean's could continue to provide overnight shelter when Brother Francis maxes out at 240 people.
As Bomalaski said, that's the short-term solution and the one that makes the most sense. Catholic Social Services, city officials and others are likely to meet soon to talk about both this winter and long-term, united work by the community to reduce homelessness and hence the need for shelters.
Bean's works because it's right next door to Brother Francis and has space for up to 124 people. There may be alternatives, like the Downtown Soup Kitchen, but there's not much time between now and October.
Bomalaski said she's received emails offering fund-raising help to maintain the Bean's overflow shelter, but hasn't yet begun a campaign.
That doesn't mean people can't give now. Donors can specify gifts to the "BFS Overflow." Bomalaski said any donations so tagged will go directly to providing overflow shelter -- even if an alternative to Bean's provides it. In that case, Catholic Social Services will forward the money to the provider.
People in Anchorage and throughout Alaska give in spades when the need is clear and they have the means. The need is clear -- the shelters have been full many nights over the last two winters.
Long-term investments in affordable housing, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment are necessary. So is the place to rest a weary, troubled head when there's no place else to go and it's cold enough to kill.
BOTTOM LINE: Anchorage can shelter its homeless.