BY DANI XIONG | March 22, 2017
Winter has come—and is still coming—here in Anchorage, Alaska. The trees have parted ways with Christmas lights and put on some frosty new sweaters, and we have put on our heavy parkas to embrace the sub-zero temperatures. Although the snow is not melting any time soon, we have been experiencing lighter and longer days and gaining about five minutes of daylight every day since the winter solstice.
While the seasons are staying on course, I fell back and veered off onto a different track. After a long and grueling discernment process, I decided to switch placements within JVC Northwest. I transitioned from Karluk Manor, a housing-first facility for individuals suffering from chronic homelessness and alcoholism, to Covenant House Alaska, a homeless shelter for at-risk youth. I’ve only been serving at Covenant House for a few weeks, but I’ve already noticed drastic differences. The most visible distinction is that Covenant House has a lot more resources than Karluk Manor.
I am now part of the Education & Employment department at Covenant House, taking on the role of Life Skills Youth Specialist. My days have been filled with conducting community outreach and building partnerships with various organizations in town, and so far, I have received many enthusiastic responses. It is interesting to see that while both Karluk Manor and Covenant House serve individuals experiencing homelessness, it appears that the community favors one subset of this population over the other.
There is a steady stream of community support pouring in to Covenant House, which I witnessed even before I began my new role. Two months ago, Covenant House held its annual Fire & Ice fundraising gala, for which my community mates and I volunteered. We all dressed to the nines and helped out with the silent auction and raffle ticket sales. While volunteering at the event, I realized that many of the influential networks in Anchorage, including the CEOs and board members of banks, oil companies, and Alaska Native corporations, were all in attendance as donors and supporters. With their help, Covenant House raised nearly half a million dollars. It was a complete 180° to see the overwhelming connections Covenant House had, whereas Karluk Manor had received unceasing criticism regarding its housing-first model and is just slowly turning its image around. Many saw housing-first as just a place for chronic alcoholic and homeless individuals to continue drinking without consequence, which is perhaps the reason why it seems that the community is more willing to provide financial support for places like Covenant House over Karluk Manor.
It feels incredible to be part of an organization that is so strongly upheld by the greater Anchorage community. Yet, I can’t help but think about Karluk Manor and its arduous fight for positive recognition and community advocacy. Karluk Manor is the first facility in Anchorage to adopt the housing-first model, one that strives to provide housing for the homeless while practicing harm-reduction and allowing its tenants to continue using alcohol. A fairly progressive model, housing-first is difficult for many people, including me, to fully understand and support.
[socialpug_tweet tweet=”Our systems do not adequately allocate care and funding to help everyone in need. #JVReflects”]
A result of my discernment process and my decision to switch placements, I’ve been forced to come to the unsettling conclusion that our systems do not adequately allocate care and funding to help everyone in need, and unfortunately, some people do get left behind. The youth—the future of America—seem to get priority over the folks who have struggled with homelessness and alcoholism for decades. No one says that upfront, but that appears to be the disturbing reality. Does this make sense? Should this make sense? In a perfect world, every vulnerable population would receive the same amount of support, but none of us is naïve enough to believe in perfection. Still, who’s to say that homeless youth deserve more than the chronic alcoholic and homeless elderly? Who’s to decide which of the marginalized populations is the most vulnerable and worthy of society’s services? Why must we even make such a decision?
[socialpug_tweet tweet=”Who’s to decide which of the marginalized populations is most worthy of society’s services?”]
Questioning and challenging the system can be a good starting point for creating better understanding, but I think it would be more effective to take this insight and act on it, too. Instead of questioning a system that is change-resistant, perhaps we should think about how we can help each other and proceed with collaborative effort.
Dani Xiong is a Jesuit Volunteer serving in Anchorage, AK as Client Relational Support at Karluk Manor at RurAL CAP. She is was born in China, grew up in Fort Collins, CO and attended Boston College graduating with a degree in Marketing & Information Systems.