CSS: Volunteers could save Clare House moms, babies from facing daytime closure

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Brother Francis Shelter will stay open this weekend instead of going through a four-day closure that was planned -- and then cancelled in the past couple of weeks.

However, clients at Clare House, another facility run by Catholic Social Services, are set to see massive changes to what they'll be able to access. The adjustments - which would include no daytime use of the facility - may be made as soon as this week.

"It would be a blessing for all of us to not have to rush up every morning, to go up and try to go somewhere when we don't have anywhere to go," said Kimberly McCullor, a Clare House resident. "I'm not the only mom here that's trying to figure out, like, what we're going to do, where we're going to go."

There's no other way to put it: the residents at Clare House, where, on average, 430 women and children find a safe place to stay each year, are now in dire straits. If CSS has to close Clare House during the day, none of those moms, expectant mothers or young children will be able to access their homes from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day for the foreseeable future.

"The trauma of that experience - not just not having another place to go, but feeling unsafe, like, literally, there isn't a place I can go to feel safe and make my baby safe," said Lisa Aquino of Catholic Social Services, "that puts you on a whole different track."

For right now, residents are still able to stay the night. And although CSS expected to have to close during the day on August 1, officials said late Wednesday that they had enough support to get through that first day - but that's it so far.

"Someone is going to get hurt, or someone is going to die," Aquino said. "It's just an awful [position] to be in."

Clare House resident Michelle Dennis said she was in shock when she heard that the facility would likely have to close during the day due to massive budget shortfalls stemming from budget cuts and Gov. Mike Dunleavy's recent vetoes.

"I'm getting close to having my baby," said Dennis, who is about 39 weeks pregnant. "I don't know where else to go. I really don't know what to do," she said.

McCullor has seven children, including a three-month-old. She and Dennis will have no option but to stay out of the facility for six hours each day, leaving home for who knows where, and doing that over and over for the foreseeable future.

"Where will we go, with the babies? You know?" McCullor said.

There is an alternative, which includes Clare House going back to its roots. Built on a foundation based on support, safety, comfort and security, Clare House was founded by volunteers, and CSS is now pleading for the community's help: donate a few hours of time so that moms and kids don't have to be out on the streets each morning and afternoon.

"You don't need a lot of experience," Aquino said. "You just need to have compassion, and to treat people with dignity and respect."

To learn more about Clare House or to volunteer, visit the Clare House website.

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