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Homelessness coalition holding community meetings this week

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Kenai Peninsula Homelessness Coalition
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A team of advocates has drafted a list of priorities and strategies for addressing homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula. Now, it’s looking for community feedback.

The nonprofit leaders and volunteers that make up the Kenai Peninsula Homelessness Coalition have been working on the plan since June, with the help of an Anchorage consulting firm.

Leslie Rohr, executive director of Love, INC., said the point of having a written plan is to create a sense of direction that volunteers can stick to.

“Because it holds us accountable," she said. "And I think it needs to be a working plan, not one that’s put on the shelf and said, ‘Oh yeah, we did our five-year strategic plan.’ But to have a living document that continues to grow as we acquire more data and as we identify more needs.”

One priority outlined in the plan is finding reliable housing options for homeless people. 

A cold-weather shelter, in particular, would be open on a night-by-night basis and would be triggered by low temperatures. There isn’t currently an emergency housing option on the central peninsula.

The coalition found a space for a shelter earlier this fall and said it could have it open in early December, pending a decision on funding from the Rasmuson Foundation. Rohr said it’s waiting to announce the location until it solidifies that funding later this week.

Other plans to get a cold-weather shelter up and running have fallen through. Advocates say that’s in part due to a lack of public knowledge about the problem.

One priority outlined in the plan is to gather more data on the peninsula’s homeless population.

"We refer to this invisible population that we have," Rohr said. "And so it may not seem important to have a family shelter. But then, when you see the numbers of school kids that are living in substandard or places not meant for human habitation, then a family shelter becomes a really high priority.”

Other priorities listed in the plan include educating the public on the coalition’s work and coordinating transportation for those who need it. 

Separately, the coalition plans to hire a coordinator to bridge together nonprofits and volunteers to work on addressing the problem locally. It’s applying for money from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority through the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The coalition is holding virtual meetings this week to solicit feedback on the draft plan. Rohr said she wants people to feel ownership over finding solutions to the problem.

“This is the starting point," she said. "And this is a plan that can grow as the community becomes more involved, as the data becomes more clear.”

There are four separate virtual meetings this week. The central peninsula meeting is Tuesday and there will be a peninsula-wide meeting Thursday.

Find all of those at kenaipeninsulahomeless.org.

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