Home is where the healing starts

July 17, 2024 Providence News Team
Eric Conroy continues to thrive after finding support at the Guest House in Anchorage.

For more than 120 years, Providence Alaska's commitment to provide for the poor and vulnerable in our state has been unwavering. In 2023, we invested $65 million in total benefit to the communities we serve, including $19 million in free and discounted care.

Housing gives vulnerable population a chance to regroup

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Eric Conroy thought he had hit rock bottom before, but when he woke up one morning in excruciating pain caused by a blood infection, he knew this was as low as it could get.  

“I had gotten the infection because I was [forcing] heroin in my muscles because I didn’t have any veins anymore, and I started getting an abscess,” Conroy said. “I just prayed. I said, ‘God, just please let me die.’ I couldn’t take it anymore; I just surrendered.”   

That was more than two years ago, and today Conroy is a different person – thanks to a series of events that brought him to the Guest House in downtown Anchorage, a housing facility that once served as a hotel for tourists. The Guest House, purchased in part with $500,000 in community investment funding from Providence Alaska, can accommodate up to 126 individuals experiencing homelessness to help them reset their life trajectory and find a more productive future.

The Guest House is part of the Alaska Community Foundation Mass Care Exit Strategy Implementation Plan. In a February 2022 report, the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness said its goal is to “make homelessness in Anchorage rare, brief and one time.”   

Conroy is living proof that it can work. Conroy’s life has not been easy. He came from Oregon to Anchorage in 2012, after moving with a now-ex-girlfriend to escape their problems.  

“We were both addicts, and we’d been locked up in and out of prison down in Oregon and we thought, ‘Lets go up to Alaska and get away from Oregon,’” he said. “It just ended up being the same thing up here.   

Eventually, the drug use and dirty needles took their toll, and the infection was so painful Conroy could barely move. He ended up at Alaska Regional Hospital, where he spent two months recovering and detoxing. He asked the hospital to help place him in a methadone clinic, but the only space available to accept him was the Sullivan Arena, which at the time housed those experiencing homelessness.   

It wasn’t ideal, but Conroy stayed clean and there met social workers who eventually connected him to the Guest House. He moved there in May 2022, after receiving assistance from Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. Here, he can focus on his sobriety and have a safe place to sleep every night. Two years later, he is still clean.   

“I’ve got my own room, and it’s nice,” he said. “I don’t have anything to complain about and I go to a church and help on Saturdays when the church group comes in to serve meals.”   

Kyle Lavey is property manager at the Guest House and in charge of day-to-day operations. He knows the property well, as his family once owned the hotel. Today, he said he affords current residents the same courtesy as the decades of guests before them.   

“Since I’ve been working here in this capacity, I’ve been striving to see the possibilities,” he said. “We have all the amenities you would see at any apartment complex. Typically, leases are for a year, and our residents have all the rights of any tenant-landlord situation.”  

But the Guest House goes a step further, he added. There is a computer station, where residents have free internet access for job searching, apartment hunting or more. There is a food pantry in the basement, which offers food pickup two days a week; a checkout system in which guests can borrow vacuum cleaners and other cleaning supplies to keep their rooms tidy; and a small laundry room where clothes can be washed for free. “I supply the soap because it just makes it easier for everyone,” he added.   

“We’re giving them what they need to help them become successful,” Lavey said. “I want this place to be a safe place for everyone – our tenants and their neighbors.”   

Conroy said he indeed feels safe at the Guest House. At one of the most vulnerable stages of his life, it offered him a place to regroup and regain hope. Now he sees his future more brightly. He has a job on the horizon, plans to find his own place to live, and wants to reconnect with his grown children, back in Oregon.  

“It’s just been a progressive uphill from there instead of a downhill,” he said. “Having my own place has kept me from using. Before, I was staying in a trailer with like 10 heroin addicts there. It was just crazy. I probably would have gone back to that if I didn’t get here.”  

 

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