Opinions

OPINION: I’m a member of Anchorage’s Emergency Shelter Task Force. Here’s what I think about homelessness solutions.

Sullivan Arena homeless shelter last day

As a member of the Emergency Shelter Task Force and as a citizen of Anchorage, I want to share some thoughts about what I have learned.

In addition to attending all the task force meetings, I was part of the task force communication team. My main role was to interview people with lived experience and ask them a set of questions as a means to collect data. Myself and another member of the task force went to four shelters: Karluk Manor, Covenant House, The Guest House and Brother Francis Shelter. In all, we spoke with 73 people. I personally spoke with 35 people. The results of our survey are on the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness website.

What isn’t on the survey are the extra stories and personal pleas people conveyed to me. Several people asked, “So if I talk with you what are you going to do?” “What will become of my answering these questions?” “What’s the purpose?” It may be presumptuous of me to say I speak for people with lived experiences, but I can pass along some of the thoughts and concerns I heard.

For some of those who had been at the Sullivan Arena and were now at Brother Francis, concern was expressed about violence at the Sullivan — guns, knives — and they said they felt much safer at Brother Francis. At Brother Francis shelter, they now have a safe clean place to shower, laundry facilities and a safe place to sleep. They spoke of needing on-site medical care 24 hours a day, clean clothes and bedding free of bedbugs and lice.

Several other individuals wanted me to pass along that people who were exhibiting episodes of violence, loud angry outbursts, and yelling out confrontations needed to be in a separate location getting behavioral support and drug/alcohol support. The shouting, yelling and threatening gestures triggered trauma and led to extreme anxiety for other residents.

At other locations, people wanted me to share their need for access to computers, internet and printers so they can get the forms and resources they need to apply for food stamps, rental vouchers and assistance from Native corporations. They expressed a deep desire to get a job, take care of themselves and give back to the community. There is a need for transportation to get to medical appointments, social security offices and other government buildings.

So, when I listened to people expressing their fears and concerns and they said, “Tell someone,” that someone is the Assembly and administration, as well as the people of Anchorage. When a person you don’t know at all is looking you in the eye and saying, “Please pass this along, please hear me,” it fills one with compassion and passion to do what is right. As I write this, I keep thinking of the Dr. Seuss book, “Horton Hears A Who” — I’m a retired teacher. On the little dust speck, people are calling out “We are here.” Let’s listen and be a support for our most vulnerable citizens.

I encourage the Assembly and Mayor Dave Bronson to support the Golden Lion becoming a housing unit, funding other organizations to increase their capacities, and housing people at the Sullivan Arena with clean, working showers, adequate laundry facilities, clean indoor bathrooms, case workers to assist people in getting the help they need, and 24-hour medical care on-site.

Julie Greene-Graham is a longtime Alaskan who retired in 2019 after a 34-year teaching career in Anchorage, as well as a member of the municipal Emergency Shelter Task Force.

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