A City in Alaska is Housing its Homeless – Which Makes It Possibly The ‘Nicest Place’ in America

A city known for its cold climate is warming hearts by ensuring its residents are safe during the coronavirus crisis—and that includes everyone in the remote city of nearly 300,000, especially the homeless.

“Since COVID-19 our community has come together—and it’s an amazing transformation that I never thought I would see,” said Sandy Cannon, the resident who submitted her city’s story to Reader’s Digest. “People are supporting local businesses, the homeless population is finally being cared for, and city leaders are stepping up and making us all proud.”

When Alaska issued its “hunker down” order due to the novel coronavirus, the staff at Catholic Social Services knew they needed to act quickly to get the homeless population of Anchorage off the streets and out of crowded shelters to stem the disease’s spread.

That meant finding private places for as many homeless as possible.

“We knew that getting these individuals into their own residences was going to be the safest option,” says Molly Cornish, community engagement director at the local Catholic Social Services.

So CSS staff worked around the clock to find hundreds of homes. But their success created a new problem: those being rehoused often lacked the necessities that so many take for granted. Soap, toothpaste and—of course—toilet paper.

A call for help on social media was picked up by Coronavirus Days of Caring, a new Facebook group of Anchorage residents. They collaborated with a local business that has an ongoing partnership with CSS, the Hotel Captain Cook, to start a drive. Residents could drop off necessities with the hotel bellmen to be distributed to a newly housed person.

Not only that; for every selfie taken during the drop-off, the hotel would give a $10 tip to staffers who had temporarily lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

When the drive concluded, two massive box trucks full of household items had been gathered. Catholic Social Services now had everything they needed for anyone who walked through their front door.

“People were so generous,” says Cornish. “It was so wonderful to see.”

A peaceful march on June 5 to protest the death of George Floyd also inspired similar steps to help community members.

After the 1,000 residents gathered, a local art gallery launched a social-distancing charity event featuring photos of the protests. “The turnout was fantastic,” says Jovell Rennie, co-owner of Akela Space. “People just kept coming to support and donate.” And they raised $23,000 for groups serving Black and Native residents.

Cannon says such generosity is the kind of thing locals do automatically for neighbors in need. She credits the kindness of her 70-something neighbor, Charlotte, with making sure she and her husband both survived the quarantine, given their high-risk immune systems. Cannon is a 65-year-old with asthma and high blood pressure, while her husband has Crohn’s disease, pre-diabetes, and lung issues. Charlotte repeatedly picked up their medications whenever they were ready at the pharmacy, and frequently made other stops.

“I would say something offhand, like ‘Oh, I need flour,’ and magically the next day flour would arrive on my doorstep,” Cannon says. “It was like the flour fairy had come! Flour, sugar, toilet paper—the surprises kept coming.”

“She’s just always there, when there’s no payoff in it for her. She does it out of the kindness of her heart.”