Members of the Anchorage Assembly just released their vision and goals for 2020, one of which is to end the decades-long plight of homelessness in Alaska’s largest city.
The other three goals aim at addressing quality of life, public safety and economic development, all of which seem tied to homelessness.
A good starting point for addressing the hundreds of men and women who live in emergency or temporary shelters would be to turn to the vibrant faith-based communities operating shelters and transitional housing across the city.
At the center of every homeless man and woman is an eternal soul that longs for the transformative love of God and neighbor.
Especially noteworthy are places like the Downtown Hope Center and the Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission. With zero government assistance, these outreaches provide food, shelter and education, while giving the homeless a renewed spiritual vision for their lives. With a heavy dependence on churches and volunteers these missions create a thriving community in which the homeless receive care for both body and soul. In many cases those who have been helped out of homelessness come back to these faith-based outreaches as advocates and volunteers.
The Anchorage Assembly’s strategy is to continue studying the barriers homeless face in transitioning into housing. They want to create committees on alcohol and drug abuse, explore mental health issues, and leverage more local, state and federal funds. This is fine, but it doesn’t sound revolutionary or much different than what’s been happening for some time now.
Assembly members should take tours of these facilities, learn why they are successful and meet some of the men and women who have embraced a new life of faith and hope.
At the very end of the section on homelessness the assembly notes that they “will need to engage a variety of partners, including business, faith communities, service providers, Alaska Native communities, Community Councils, health providers, the State of Alaska, federal agencies, people experiencing homelessness, and others.”
Perhaps the faith communities should top the list. The city could start by not prohibiting faith-based outreaches from addressing homelessness in accord with their religious beliefs. Secondly, assembly members should take tours of these facilities, learn why they are successful and meet some of the men and women who have embraced a new life of faith and hope.
Homelessness is not merely a physical, material or economic problem. At the center of every homeless man and woman is an eternal soul that longs for the transformative love of God and neighbor.