Sabine Poux/KDLL

A coalition of nonprofits has been working toward creating an emergency shelter on the central peninsula for a while. But until recently, their idea has remained just that.

Now, that idea has a home. The Kenai Peninsula Homelessness Coalition has finalized the purchase of a building in Nikiski, just north of the Nikiski Community Recreation Center.

Kenai Peninsula Homelessness Coalition

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.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

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.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Temperatures dipped below freezing in Kenai this weekend. Each year, that first frost is a reminder that the Central Kenai Peninsula still doesn’t have an emergency cold-weather shelter for its homeless residents.

“In the short term, it is worrisome," said Leslie Rohr, executive director of Love INC. "And we go through this every winter, ‘What are we going to do?’”

The peninsula has most of what it needs for an emergency cold weather shelter. 

“The food bank is ready, willing and able to provide the evening meal and a light breakfast to go in the mornings. We have transportation available through a couple different avenues," said Leslie Rohr. She's executive director of Love INC, one of several peninsula groups that are spearheading the initiative to get a shelter going this winter.

What they’re missing is a space. And there’s not much that can happen without one.

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.

For someone struggling with employment — or housing, health care or recovery — they’re generally facing several challenges at once. Finding help for even one of these issues can be difficult, much less navigating the web of service providers spread out across the community.

To make that process easier for people needing assistance, service providers met this week to learn the ropes themselves so they can better direct clients.

Connecting the Kenai, a one-stop resource academy, was held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

“We all have our different programs. Sometimes we can blend and braid together services for an individual so that we can really help them in a holistic manner. From our standpoint, an individual is not going to be successful in their life, as far as employment is concerned, if they don’t have their housing needs met, if they don’t have their health care needs met if, if that is something that is getting in their way of being successful," said Rachel O’Brien, with the Alaska Department of Labor, who organized the event.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Struggling with poverty can be a lonely experience. Health, housing, transportation, employment and other factors can be a delicate house of cards. Without resources or a support system, one card slipping out of place can bring it all crashing down.

Project Homeless Connect is a way to help shore up those cards for people in need. People attending the annual service clearinghouse Wednesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Center found all the threads of the local support net in one place at one time. And it was anything but lonely, with more than 35 organizations and services on offer and more than 50 volunteers ready to help.

Leslie Rohr, executive director of Love, INC, spoke with host Jenny Neyman about the organization's efforts to help those facing poverty, as well as Project Homeless Connect and an effort to start an emergency cold-weather shelter program.

Soldotna Council hears plea for homeless shelter

Aug 14, 2019

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.

On this week's Kenai Conversation, we talk with Maggie Winston of the Independent Living Center about the Disability Pride Rally coming up Saturday at Soldotna Creek Park from noon to 4 p.m.

Ms. Winston stays with us as we welcome Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander and Leslie Rohr of Love INC to discuss homelessness in Kenai.

Kenai City parks to begin closing at midnight

Jul 11, 2019

The treatment of the homeless by the City of Kenai again got an airing at the July 3 city council meeting. Parks will now close overnight in an effort to control their movements. 
    At the Kenai City Council meeting, City Manager Paul Ostrander walked back his stance from the council's prior meeting that the homeless were the problem and tried to refocus the issue on overnight park safety.

The city of Kenai administration has started cracking down on the city’s homeless and transient population, though at least one city official is concerned enough about the actions that he has urged caution.

"You know, in my mind, some of their rights are violated." - Vice Mayor Tim Navarre

City Manager Paul Ostrander reported to the council that he and the police chief removed tons of stolen items left by homeless people in various wooded areas of the city.

Jay Barrett/KDLL photo

  Project Homeless Connect, a one-day outreach to the peninsula’s disadvantaged, attracted scores people to the Soldotna Sports Complex Wednesday. Frank Alioto, whose daytime job is at Central Peninsula Hospital, is a co-leader of the project.