As Alaska’s economy continues to sputter, and with social programs being slashed at both the state and federal levels, addressing some issues has become more local than ever. One of those is homelessness.
That came to the Soldotna City Council unexpectedly last Thursday night.
This is hard. I need help. I've been asking for help. I sleep outside and it's dangerous.
“Hello, my name is Debra Lee Jerose. I don't have an address because I am a 67-year-old homeless woman,” she said. “I am totally living on the streets. And it's difficult because of my age and painful medical condition and it's dangerous at night.
“I have asked several people, I've been to several churches. Everyone acts like they're so sad. All I need is maybe a five-by-five piece of indoor building to get out of the cold at night, and leave in the morning. I had been going to the emergency room approximately two to three times a week, cold, wet and in pain.
“I’ve been through many trying situations, and I think that this is the most difficult time I've ever gone through in my life, and that includes cancer treatment. This is hard. I need help. I've been asking for help. I sleep outside and it's dangerous. I've already had close calls with males I don't know in the middle of the night. So who’s ever listening that cares and is willing and wants to do something about it, please let us get a homeless shelter in Soldotna.”
Another citizen, Jason Floyd, the owner of Ammo Can Coffee on the Spur Highway in Soldotna, said Jerose was not alone.
“We stay open late at night, three nights of the week, and Debbie has been a welcome guest and patron of my business,” he said. “And we have worked with Debbie to help her with housing. And we've gotten to see some of the barriers that exist for her and others like her. Being open late, we see a lot of folks come in that are off the street.
“There needs to be something done at the policy level if the city could start a discussion about how it zones its land and land use and start looking at the possibility of providing lower-cost, lower-entry opportunities for folks.
“I'm a willing community participant in any conversation about the homelessness issue, and more than happy to speak to it and be part of any process that would lead us to have a better solution for our homeless population here or the people who are in transition and marginally homed.”
He suggested resurrecting a “tiny home” community idea that once got a look, but didn’t gain traction in the city.