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New Clare House vastly improves transitional living for homeless women and children
The phone rang in Susan Bomalaski’s office and Monica Anderson, chief mission integration officer for Providence Health & Services Alaska, said, “I hope you are sitting down.”
So that’s what Bomalaski, executive director of Catholic Social Services did. Just a few weeks earlier CSS had requested a $25,000 grant for renovations to a newly purchased hotel that will soon be the new Clare House. She hoped the news would be good.
Instead, it was great.
Creating a new Clare House, which since 1982 has been a lifeline to women and mothers struggling with homelessness due to poverty, abuse or other unforeseen circumstances, is something the Sisters of Providence would be proud to support, Anderson told her. Twenty-five thousand was not enough. They’d contribute $350,000.
“I was floored,” Bomalaski said. “They do so much to support us, and this will allow us to double our capacity.”
At the new Clare House site, workers demolished old fixtures, plumbing and flooring in the old Eagle Nest Motel in Spenard. Sam Thies, project manager for Cook Inlet Housing Authority, said it may look a mess now but by June, the 25-unit complex should be ready to welcome its first residents.
“Our first goal was to identify life-safety issues,” Thies said. “Structurally the building is in great shape.”
The majority of work needed included electrical upgrades, installation of energy-efficient heating and a security system to keep women safe. The resulting 14,500-square-foot facility will house two kitchen-dining areas, a large play room and common areas for meeting. There will be office and storage space, and first- and second-level housing to accommodate both short- and longer-term residents.
The existing Clare House, tucked into an industrial area off Arctic Boulevard, has served its patrons well, said Ellen Krsnak, CSS community relations director. But it’s a third of the size of the new facility and far from public transportation.
“Trying to push a stroller this far down the road, especially in the snow and with all the trucks going by?” Krsnak said. “It is a real challenge.”
Come June, women seeking shelter can simply get on a bus and disembark just a few steps away from the new Clare House.
“That is going to be huge,” Krsnak said.
Bomalaski said when considering the new site’s design she wanted to foster the idea of togetherness, of women helping women to empower themselves. So the new dining area is larger, allowing everyone to eat together – unlike the old location, in which residents have to eat in shifts.
“We like the idea of keeping that community feel, of everyone gathering together to share a meal,” she said.
Perhaps the best improvement to the new Clare House, though, is the privacy. Current sleeping quarters consist of pods separated by half walls and lined with bunk beds, Army-barracks style. Because of the limited privacy, older boys are not allowed to stay with their mothers and must stay in alternative housing.
That’s not doing anyone any good, Bomalaski said.
Thies said besides privacy, the new rooms also have closets and bedroom space for storage instead of the plastic-tub and gym-locker setup at the current location.
“Each room is about 800 to 850 square feet,” Thies said. They will have their own bathrooms, but each room varies a little in size and layout.”
Last year, Clare House served 470 women with children and expectant mothers and provided 16,990 nights of stay. With the new site, Bomalaski said, Catholic Social Services will be able to double that service.
“There’s a growing need,” she said. “We will be able to serve so many more families.”
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