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A letter to our Alaska community

  • Author: Lisa Aquino
    | Opinion
  • Updated: July 19
  • Published July 19

Beans Cafe, photographed early Wednesday morning, Aug. 31, 2016, and neighboring Brother Francis Shelter together provide services for many of Anchorage’s homeless population. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

We are reaching out to you in faith and solidarity, because the values we share as a community, and as Alaskans, bond us together. Only together can we find a solution to the situation we are all in now.

There is a budget approved by the governor that disregards the budget of the Legislature and seems to have forgotten the actual people affected by these decisions. The vetoes made by the governor disregard the health and safety of the most vulnerable people in our state. The vetoes also do not consider the heavy-lifting of figuring out how to do the actual on-the-ground work of implementing drastic cuts. The cuts feel haphazard and disconnected from the vulnerable people we serve every day and the real-life consequences on the lives the people of this state.

Our last chance is our legislators. The budget they put forward did make many cuts, but it was clearer how the cuts could be made, and consideration of some of the basic needs of our state and our people was taken. Now, it’s up to them again. I ask all of you to please call all our legislators and tell them to put aside their small differences, talk about this budget and restore funding cut by the vetoes. Talk about the real people and the consequences it will have. They are not inconsequential changes and it represents far more than a “tough month to get through.” This is the willful dismantling of necessary services, and people will suffer, and lives will be lost. That is not a burden I wish for anyone, and it is also not a burden our legislators have to carry, if they can come together and make the right decision for Alaskans.

The budget will cause lasting harm, and most of the cuts are built on the backs of Alaska’s vulnerable people — seniors, children and young people, the sick, and those in extreme poverty. It will also result in the state paying more of its limited resources to address the impacts these cuts will have on the other departments that will ultimately have to pick up the slack.

At Catholic Social Services, the cuts to homeless service funds will require us to cut by more than half the number of people who we can shelter at Brother Francis Shelter. That means that 140 additional people will be sleeping outside in Anchorage, and surrounding communities, because they have nowhere else to go. They will cause an increase in emergency services and use of corrections, and it will not just affect Anchorage. It will affect the whole state, because Brother Francis Shelter is the largest shelter in the state and serves people from all over Alaska — from the farthest reaches of the Arctic coast, to the tip of the Aleutian chain, to our neighbors in the Mat-Su region and the Kenai Peninsula. People will not have a place to go in Anchorage anymore.

That is the same for Clare House — the shelter for women and children here in Anchorage. These cuts will force us to reduce services, and we are looking at having to close during the day. This will have many implications for families in our state. Clare House is their safe space while they get back on their feet, and it will have to change to just being a place to lay their head, leaving these mothers to search for safety for themselves and their children on their own during the day.

Nonprofits and the faith community are doing their part. Our faith has us here working, and our community pays for these shelters at more than 80% already. This leaves us doing the government’s job. We should receive support from the government — both because government should pay for emergency services, which is what we are providing, and because nonprofit groups do it so much more efficiently and effectively than government can, and that partnership should be encouraged and leveraged. We are saving our state and our community millions of dollars. However, this new state budget will make non-profits like CSS, which has been here more than 50 years, seriously consider not providing parts of this work because it is simply no longer sustainable. We cannot do any more with any less. We already operate on the margin.

Whatever comes of the discussions about the state budget, at this point, we hope that our legislators put their differences aside for the people they represent. Please urge your legislator to talk about this budget in the special session and restore the funding cut by the governor’s vetoes. The legislators already did the tough work and made a comprehensive budget that had significant cuts. Please do not let all that difficult and important work go to waste.

This is our state and this is our community, I pray that our Alaska legislators and Gov. Mike Dunleavy can come together for the people who live and die here and make reasonable, economic and compassionate decisions based on how all of this will actually work practically on the ground, not how a few people in an office with some papers and a calculator think it looks on a spreadsheet.

I will keep you, and all the most vulnerable in our state who are devastated by this budget, in my prayers.

Lisa DH Aquino, MHS, serves as executive director of Catholic Social Services in Anchorage.

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