ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Catholic Social Services is getting ready to nearly triple the number of beds it offers to homeless women and their children in the near future.
On Wednesday, CSS announced it had just acquired the Anchorage Eagles Nest Hotel, at 4110 Spenard Rd. The building, once it's renovated, will supply beds for up to 120 people. That's a big improvement over CSS's current housing for homeless moms and their kids -- which provides shelter for only 45 people.
In addition, CSS plans to renovate a four-plex apartment building behind the hotel, and create a 10,000-square-foot playground between the two buildings. These things are considered important for the emotional health of homeless kids.
The renovations will provide homeless mothers and children with up to two years of shelter, giving them time to get back on their feet.
The acquisition of the old hotel was made possible through private contributions, as well as a $750,000 federal block grant obtained by Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. In all, renovating the hotel, the apartment building and the playground will cost somewhere in excess of $2.8 million.
Susan Bomalaski, CSS's executive director, says that the acquisition is important. At any given time, 80 women and children are on the group's waiting list hoping for shelter. Bomalaski says about 4,000 people are homeless in Anchorage, including an estimated 2,300 women and children.
Bomalaski says the homeless population of the city has increased in recent years, fueled partly by the poor economy of the Lower 48. People are coming up to Alaska seeking a new start and hoping to find good paying jobs -- hopes that don't always work out, and can quickly leave people in deep trouble thousands of miles from friends and family who might be able to help.
The newly acquired shelter, which will be home to CSS's Clare House program, still needs renovation and won't open its doors until the end of this year.
But that's important, because temperatures can drop dangerously low in an Anchorage winter. And thanks to the new renovations, CSS should be able to house up to 120 women and children -- a big increase over its current total of 45 beds.
In addition, the shelter provides up to two years of housing and support -- critical for women who may need jobs, daycare and education to try to lift their families out of the deep well of poverty.
In an unrelated development, Mayor Sullivan also announced that the city's credit rating had been upgraded by Standard and Poor's, which boosted its rating from AA to AA+. The move, which Sullivan attributed to Anchorage's above-average incomes and stability in property taxes, brings S&P into line with an AA+ rating recently issued by Fitch's.
The upgrade in ratings is considered significant because Anchorage issues up to $30 million in new bonds each year. If it can get a slightly better rate on the interest for the borrowing it does, it can save large sums of money. For example, an improvement in the borrowing rate of just 1 percent would translate into a savings of $300,000 a year on $30 million in debt.
Sullivan said he did not know precisely how much the boost in credit rating would ultimately save the city -- but he said it would be "many, many dollars."