Fairbanks homeless shelters fill up when temperatures drop

Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2005

FAIRBANKS - When the mercury plummets in Fairbanks, people living on the fringes show up at shelters and rescue missions to get warm.

Mark Cline, services director at the Immaculate Conception Church Community Services, estimates there are more than 60 people who camp out in tents, abandoned cars and panel trucks on the outskirts of Fairbanks.

On Monday, Cline said he responded to seven calls from individuals asking if they could work in exchange for meals ready to eat or small propane canisters. The canisters fuel stoves and heaters for camping outdoors.

"These are the people who are on the bottom of the pile," Cline said. "We work for the people who have nowhere else to go."

Over at the bright, spacious Fairbanks Rescue Mission, the Revs. Charles and Aletha Swanson keep the doors open.

"No one should feel shame or guilty about being here," said Charles Swanson.

Last week, when temperatures dropped to 40 below zero, there was a 50 percent increase in occupancy at the mission. On Monday evening, 45 people sought shelter.

The 41,000-square-foot building has a capacity to house 100 men and 60 women and children. That capacity has never been reached since the new building was opened over three years ago.

People come in for all sorts of reasons, the Swansons said. They have lost their jobs, were evicted, fled abusive situations, ran out of money or just arrived in town.

"What we do is give them a little help to get back up on their feet," Aletha Swanson said.

In addition to a clean bed and basics such as toiletries, shelter clients also receive three meals a day and clothing vouchers that are used at its in-house thrift store.

The first 10 days at the Rescue Mission are free. On day 11, residents either pay $10 a day if they are working or do three hours of in-house service to stay.

"Some days, the floors get mopped three times over," Charles Swanson said.

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