ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A network of churches in Anchorage is sheltering families and at-risk individuals from the overnight cold, alleviating some of the strain on the city's larger shelters.
Churches have provided overnight shelter for about ten years in Anchorage. This winter, there are ten churches that can provide beds to as many as 25 individuals in a night.
The churches rotate shelter responsibilities to distribute the burden. St. John United Methodist Church, for example, will be open twice in January. Tina Racy and Karen Shields are members of the church; volunteers who help lead the sheltering effort.
Racy says many of those seeking shelter are not homeless by choice, rather by necessity.
"I think oftentimes we kind of jump to conclusions as to why people are homeless," Racy said. "Sometimes it's not a matter of a person having a home -- it's just not safe for them to be in their home. So they find themselves on the street. This system is able to provide those folks with a safe haven."
St. John United Methodist Church recently added a full basketball court extension onto their building which they use to provide shelter. The court meets building standards for fire safety, which is just one of the prerequisites churches need to provide overnight shelter.
Racy says just making the necessary upgrades to become an overnight shelter cost their congregation $10,000, and another $5,000 per year to provide services.
When it's their turn to shelter they provide a hot meal and shower, toiletries, and beds with clean sheets and pillows.
Churches do not publicize their shelter dates in part as an extra layer of safety for the families and at-risk individuals. United Way of Anchorage sponsors Alaska 2-1-1, an answering service that connects people to shelters.
If you are an at-risk individual or family, dial 2-1-1 and United Way will connect you to services. Christian Health Associates partners with United Way to coordinate the efforts of the churches providing cold weather shelter.
Other churches include St. John's United Methodist, ChangePoint, Cornerstone Church, First Presbyterian Church, Muldoon Community Assembly, Central Lutheran Church, First United Methodist Church, First Covenant Church, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, and Anchorage City Church.
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