Alone in the cold, homeless women in Anchorage, Alaska need somewhere to turn—somewhere to feel safe.
Many of these women are victims of unspeakable trauma, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and even sex trafficking. But often, the only refuge from the cold is a co-ed shelter where these women feel unsafe due to the presence of men. Some of them would rather sleep in the woods in the frigid Alaskan temperatures than next to a man.
As you might imagine, it can be easy for someone in this situation to feel like an outcast—like they don’t matter and are not loved. This is why the Downtown Hope Center exists. Written on the windows are the words: “You matter. You are loved.” But unlike other shelters, the Hope Center only allows biological women in its overnight quarters. It wants to ensure that these women feel safe.
But for almost a year, the Anchorage officials threatened to take away this safe haven, leaving these women out in the cold. The Hope Center filed a lawsuit so it could continue to serve this vulnerable population.
Let’s take a closer look at the case and why the government came after this vital ministry.
Who: Sherrie Laurie and the homeless women she serves
Sherrie Laurie spent over 20 years as a successful pilot for FedEx. Later in life, she was inspired to serve the homeless. As a child, Sherrie’s homeless uncle frightened her, shaping her early view of the homeless community. As an adult, Sherrie decided to overcome this fear by serving people who, just like her uncle, were in dire need.
Today, she is the director of the Downtown Hope Center—a Christian non-profit organization that offers job skills training, daily meals, laundry, and clothing for the homeless men and women of Anchorage—all free of charge.
“Inspired by the love of Jesus,” the Hope Center’s mission is to “offer those in need support, shelter, sustenance, and skills to transform their lives.” The Hope Center has been helping, teaching, and feeding homeless men and women for over 30 years, handing out 450-600 cups of soup every day.
At night, the Hope Center offers a free shelter for women only, a safe place for the many homeless women to escape from abusive situations and even sex trafficking.
You would think that the local government would want to support organizations like the Hope Center. Instead, Anchorage officials went after it because of its Christian beliefs.
It all started in January 2018, when a biological man who identifies as a woman tried to gain access to the women’s shelter. He was injured and intoxicated, so Sherrie sent him to a local hospital to get the medical care he needed. She even paid for his taxi.
Soon after, a complaint was filed against the Hope Center with the Anchorage Civil Rights Commission, claiming that the center had discriminated against this individual. But the Hope Center never violated the law. In fact, they got this individual the care he needed.
The Hope Center serves everyone—men and women alike, no matter how they identify. But in order to provide a safe place for women escaping sex trafficking or abusive situations, the Hope Center’s overnight facilities, showers, and changing areas are open only to biological women.
Unbelievably, the Anchorage officials twisted a law to attempt to force the Hope Center to admit biological men into its women’s shelter. The motivation was clear: they wanted to force this faith-based homeless shelter to get on board with their political agenda—all at the expense of the vulnerable women the Hope Center uniquely serves.
That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit against the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission and the city.
When: November 2018—September 2019
ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Downtown Hope Center in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska on November 1, 2018. Oral arguments for the case took place on January 11, 2019.
Thankfully, in September of 2019, Anchorage agreed to end its crusade against the shelter.
Where: Anchorage, Alaska
The Downtown Hope Center serves homeless men and women in Anchorage, Alaska. Anchorage is not only one of the coldest climates in the United States, it’s also a hub for human traffickers. Many of the women who use the overnight shelter have escaped sex trafficking and are the survivors of unthinkable trauma.
Why: To stand up for women and religious non-profits
The Hope Center has a duty to protect the dignity, safety, and privacy of the vulnerable homeless women in its care. Admitting men into its shelter is contrary to that goal. Many of these women have suffered rape, physical abuse, and domestic violence. They should not be forced to sleep or change clothes in the same room as a man. But if Anchorage officials had gotten their way, these women would have been forced to sleep only a few feet away from a man.
Many of these homeless women already feel like they don’t matter. It’s a shame that Anchorage officials elevated their political agenda over the privacy and safety concerns of these women. In a rush to push religious beliefs out of the public square, these officials almost pushed vulnerable women out into the cold.
Certainly, we can all agree that a place like the Hope Center shouldn’t have to serve its community on the government’s terms.
The Bottom Line
The Downtown Hope Center should be free to serve the homeless according to its faith without fear of government punishment.
Homeless, vulnerable women in Anchorage often feel like they have nowhere to turn. The Hope Center provides them with a vital message that they desperately need to hear: You matter, and you are loved. Thankfully, the Hope Center can continue to spread that message today without fear of government punishment.