Alaska - Catholic Social Services housing program offers a fresh start

July 11, 2019

Homeless Family Services in Anchorage, Alaska


Brian (center) gets a tour of the kitchen at his new home from the housing manager, accompanied by his caseworker, Heather (right).

Brian Sharpe looks around the communal kitchen of an apartment he is considering as a new home. It is large but modest, decorated with artificial trees and edged by a row of soft couches.

“Oh my gosh, I could sit down here all day long,” he says. “I love kitchens.”

The room is cozy, dry and quiet – quite the opposite of the sleepless nights Sharpe is used to spending in a shelter or on the streets.

Joining Sharpe on the apartment tour is his caseworker, Heather Lubinski, who is based at the Brother Francis Shelter operated by Catholic Social Services. She met Sharpe more than 20 years ago as he struggled to get off the streets. Lubinski is one of 17 case managers under the Homeless Family Services umbrella of CSS, and one of two whose job is funded through a $525,000 investment by Providence Health & Services Alaska. The funding provides direct assistance for people experiencing homelessness, and staff expenses. The program in Alaska is one of many housing-first programs supported across the seven-state footprint of Providence St. Joseph Health.

brian-outside“We see people who are chronically homeless, and I think the longer a person’s been homeless, the more challenging it can be to find the right accommodation,” said Robin Dempsey, Homeless Family Services program director. “But if you can remove the homelessness from their life, they have an opportunity to thrive.”

Before touring the apartment, Sharpe and Lubinski stop at a phone store, where she helps him subscribe to a “lifeline” phone, meant to text and make phone calls. The phone will enable Sharpe to start looking for a job. Potential employers will have a phone number to call if he fills out an application.

As Sharpe stands at the counter waiting for the paperwork to go through, he nods in Lubinski’s direction: “We’ve had our ups and downs,” he says. “We haven’t always seen eye to eye. But because of what we’ve been through, I couldn’t trust anybody more.”

Back at the apartment building, the apartment manager opens the door to a dorm-style unit by the elevators with a small twin bed. The room is no bigger than a walk-in closet with a small window overlooking a parking lot below. Demand for this kind of housing is strong, so choices are limited.

Lubinski quietly tells Sharpe that there is a larger unit available at a slightly higher price. But Sharpe nods his head: “This is good,” he says.

The apartment manager tells Sharpe he could move in that same day. Sharpe pauses.

“You mean I can sleep here tonight?” he finally asks.

Lubinski reassures him: “Yes, we just have to fill out a few forms.”

A few hours later, keys in hand, Sharpe steps into his new home.


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