Cold-weather shelter idea in search of a home

Aug 31, 2020

Ninety percent of the 147 participants interviewed at this year's Project Homeless Connect in Soldotna said they would use a cold-weather shelter if one were available on the central Kenai Peninsula.
Credit Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The central Kenai Peninsula homeless population isn’t as visible as in Anchorage or other big cities, but it does exist. And the worst time of the year to not have housing is just around the corner.

Twyla Mundy, with the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness Continuum of Care Committee for the Kenai Peninsula, spoke to the Soldotna City Council at its meeting last week. She advocated for a cold-weather shelter to give people a place to go in the winter when temperatures pose a risk to health and safety.

It’s not a new idea. Love, INC, is coordinating the project. Working with churches in Nikiski, Kenai and Soldotna, they came close to having a shelter system up and running last year but snagged on the occupancy approval process. This year, COVID issues make church housing a nonstarter. 

Mundy says she can’t stand for a shelter not to be available again this winter.

“We have a plan but we got stopped because of all of the fire requirements and I understand that, but we never actually opened and my heart — I can’t walk by empty buildings this winter and know how many people are freezing in their cares. That can’t happen in the town I live,” Mundy said.

Leslie Rohr, executive director of Love, INC, says the organization has an opportunity to apply for over $1 million in grants from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to establish a seasonal shelter and work toward permanent housing for people facing homelessness. But the funding application needs a show of support.

“Those grants are only available to nonprofits who have the blessing of the city and borough governments where they reside,” Rohr said.

The Continuum of Care Committee doesn’t yet have a site for the winter shelter, though the now-vacant Soldotna Prep building and Challenger Learning Center in Kenai are ideas. Rohr says the grants would provide funding to run the shelter when a suitable location is found.

“There are a couple of options. What this grant will provide us with are the operating expenses — the money to lease whatever building is suitable and to provide staffing and oversight for that project,” Rohr said.

The Soldotna City Council was open to submitting a letter of support, contingent on first seeing the specifics of a shelter plan. The committee is planning on approaching the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and Kenai City Council, as well.