It was a cold Friday night in January when Sherrie Laurie, director of the Hope Center — a Christian homeless shelter in downtown Anchorage, Alaska — was called down to the floor to deal with a disruptive “man in a nightgown” who was “very inebriated, with a big gash down his face.” Laurie recognized the man, whom she had seen in men’s clothing before, she tells me by phone. Though the individual professes a female gender identity, he was over six feet tall and “very large.” And Laurie was in no doubt about his sex.
Laurie explained that it wouldn’t be possible for him to stay the night — he was intoxicated and in clear need of medical attention. She called him a cab to the hospital and paid the fare herself. The individual left on good terms. When he showed up the next day, Laurie explained that check-in wasn’t until 5:45 p.m. (On Saturdays during the day, the Hope Center is staffed by volunteers and therefore is only open only to those who have checked in the night before and have undergone breathalyzers and bag checks.) Again, he left without an issue.
Though the Hope Center serves both men and women during daytime hours, its overnight facilities are reserved for females only. And, then, only women who are sober and who have been determined to be non-threatening. This is owing to the vulnerability of the women the Hope Center serves. They have often come out of “extremely abusive situations,” including sex trafficking and domestic violence. Laurie recalls one time assisting a woman who had been “held captive” and whose captors had “set her backpack on fire and she was burned.” She explains that the Hope Center staff (at night, all female) are often “first responders.” Laurie says that it is “absolutely critical” that this particular service remain single-sex. The women sleep in the same room and may be in various stages of undress. “Somebody may be raped and then come right to our door,” she says.