Win ensures vulnerable women have a safe place to stay in Anchorage

Tonight, about 50 women will sleep side-by-side at the Downtown Hope Center in Anchorage. Every one of these women will know they are safe — some for the first time — from the threat of physical and sexual abuse. That safety was recently ensured when Anchorage agreed to make permanent a recent federal court ruling in Hope Center’s favor.

The Hope Center exists to serve the homeless and working poor in their community. During the day, they provide both men and women with food (serving up to 600 cups of soup a day), clothing, laundry services, and job skills training. At night, they provide a safe place for women to sleep. Many of the women they serve have suffered sex trafficking, domestic violence and other abuse.

And through the shelter, many women have found their way out of both homelessness and abuse. For example, when “Amanda” (name changed to protect her identity) came to the Hope Center, she found a lifeline.

Widowed in 2007 after her husband lost his fight with cancer, Amanda lost her home at the peak of the financial crisis. Not knowing the Hope Center, Amanda turned to other local shelters. There she found a place to sleep, but she also met men who abused and raped her. She watched helplessly as other women in the shelters became victims of sex-trafficking. These experiences left her with trauma that makes it very difficult for her to sleep around any man.

In 2016, Amanda started staying at the Hope Center, where she began rebuilding her life. “I finally felt safe,” Amanda says. “I didn’t have to worry that I would see a biological male where I was sleeping and be scared or anxious because of things that happened to me in the past. I felt like I had some privacy again and I felt respected.” Amanda graduated from the Hope Center’s culinary and baking schools and now has a job and her own place to live.

Amanda’s story is not the only one of success. Many women have been transformed by the power of a safe place to sleep at night.

But that safe place was threatened in January 2018 when a man in a pink nightgown came to the shelter seeking admission. He was intoxicated and injured. The Hope Center’s executive director talked with him, prayed with him, and then paid for his taxi to the hospital for the medical care he needed.


Even though he left on good terms, he later filed a complaint with the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission. Anchorage pursued it, trying to force the shelter to begin admitting men who self-identify as women.

On Aug. 9, a federal court sided with the Hope Center, ordering that it can continue to offer a safe haven for women while it challenges Anchorage’s insistence that men who present as women must be allowed to sleep alongside women.

Then, earlier this week, Anchorage gave up and agreed to put the matter to rest — dismissing the complaint filed against the Hope Center at the Equal Rights Commission and agreeing to make the federal court’s order protecting the Hope Center permanent.

Women deserve a safe place to sleep at night. That’s why this legal win for the Hope Center is wonderful news. It means the Hope Center can continue providing safe, overnight housing for women, and it means that women can continue to come there to heal from past trauma. It means vulnerable women won’t have their right to bodily privacy jeopardized because a man insists on sleeping alongside them.

Ultimately, it means many more women like Amanda will find a better life because of the Hope Center’s good work.

Kate Anderson is senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents Downtown Hope Center.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.