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Coalition making progress on shelter plan

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Jenny Neyman/KDLL
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The central Kenai Peninsula could soon have a functional cold-weather shelter — a long-awaited step in a years-long effort to secure emergency housing for the area’s homeless population.

“A lot of pieces are falling together. And I believe we can have an open shelter on the Kenai Peninsula by the first week in December," said Tim Navarre, who's part of the Kenai Peninsula Homelessness Coalition.

A cold weather shelter is triggered by low temperatures — in this case, 20 degrees or lower. 

It’s been hard for advocates to find and secure a space for a shelter. The nonprofits and volunteers that make up the Kenai Peninsula Homelessness Coalition have struck out on several sites. Last year, COVID-19 stymied a plan to rotate people through area churches on cold nights. 

But Navarre said less than a month ago, the group became aware of a building for sale on the central Kenai Peninsula. 

The group is waiting to say where the shelter will be until the remainder of the funding it needs is in place. But Navarre said the space is perfect.

“It’s pretty amazing," Navarre said. "It’s almost somewhat built as a shelter.”

The building used to be a dormitory, so it already has a lot of the infrastructure a shelter would need. And he said it’s all to code, which was a hurdle when the group was trying to get churches safety certified.

He said the shelter could hold up to 40 people.

Local estimates on how many people would use a cold-weather shelter are rough. But 90 percent of the 147 participants interviewed at the 2020 Project Homeless Connect said they would use a shelter if one was available.

Navarre said the group has already worked out a deal with the building’s current owners. Half of the money to buy the place will come from a grant through Cook Inlet Region, Inc. The other half could come from the Rasmuson Foundation, pending a vote from the foundation next month.

That’s the last piece before the project becomes possible, Navarre said. After that, the group will look for outside funding to spot day-to-day operational costs. 

The shelter could be used for year-round temporary housing beyond the winter months, Navarre said. Meals would be supplied by the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.

“It’s a very coordinated effort between all parties," he said.

The Kenai Peninsula Homelessness Coalition has also been meeting weekly to work on a five-year strategic plan

It’s also applying for money from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority through the Kenai Peninsula Borough to fund a coordinator to bridge the involved nonprofits and volunteers together. The coordinator would be recognized as a special assistant to the office of the borough mayor, according to the resolution approved by the borough assembly this week.

In the meantime, the Kenai Peninsula Homelessness Coalition is holding several virtual meetings next month to get input on its strategic plan.

The meeting for the central peninsula is Nov. 16, between 6 and 7:30 p.m. There are also meetings for the southern and eastern peninsula. 

Learn more at kenaipeninsulahomeless.org.

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