Fire Marshals Jeremy Hamilton, left, and Brooke Dobson, center right, meet with members of the Shelter Development Workgroup at the Kenai Public Health Center in Kenai, Alaska on Jan. 8, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Fire Marshals Jeremy Hamilton, left, and Brooke Dobson, center right, meet with members of the Shelter Development Workgroup at the Kenai Public Health Center in Kenai, Alaska on Jan. 8, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Cold-weather shelter still faces obstacles

Any building serving as an emergency shelter would have to meet certain general requirements.

The ongoing effort to develop an emergency cold-weather shelter on the Kenai Peninsula still has a few hurdles to overcome before getting up and running.

Members of the emergency cold-weather shelter work group met last Wednesday to discuss the latest developments and challenges with the project, including determining the target population and meeting the relevant building codes.

In attendance for the first time at Wednesday’s meeting were Jeremy Hamilton and Brooke Dobson, fire marshals for the cities of Kenai and Soldotna, respectively, who offered their advice on another obstacle for the shelter: ensuring that all of the churches would be in compliance with city building codes.

Hamilton said that any building that would function as an emergency shelter would have to meet certain general requirements. Sleeping areas would need two exits, including one that leads directly outside. Any building without sprinklers would have a maximum sleeping occupancy of 16 people, Hamilton said, and the size of each sleeping area may further limit the number of occupants.

Smoke detectors would be required inside and outside of sleeping areas, and a carbon monoxide detector would be required outside of sleeping areas. A fire safety and emergency evacuation plan would need to be onsite and posted publicly, and the evacuation plans would need to be separate from the church’s evacuation plan. Two staff members would also be required to act as a Fire Watch, responsible for monitoring the area for any hazards and calling 911 in case of an emergency.

Dobson said that any room to be used as a sleeping area would have to be examined by either her or Hamilton depending on the location in order to calculate maximum occupancy. Any building not within the city limits of Kenai or Soldotna would need to be approved by a state fire marshal, Dobson said.

Hamilton said that, to the extent a building would be able to function as a shelter, the group may want to consider looking at one location that meets all or most of the requirements he laid out rather than attempting to repurpose all of the churches that have signed up in order to bring them into compliance.

“Instead of saying ‘anybody in the room that wants to help, raise your hand,’ it should be, ‘anybody in the room that has these types of things, can you raise your hand,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said that many of the churches in Kenai have a long way to go before being able to house occupants.

“A lot of our churches are older, and they were built before anybody thought about classrooms or sanctuaries,” Hamilton said. “But when you have people sleeping in unprotected buildings, this is the kind of stuff that we have to worry about.”

To that end, April Hall, pastor of Kenai and North Star United Methodist Churches, suggested that one or two churches “champion” the effort and take on the role of being the primary location, with the other churches providing the volunteers for each night.

The current plan for the cold-weather shelter involves using a list of churches that would function as the shelter on a rotating schedule, with each church being assigned a specific day of the week. The shelter would open on nights when the temperature in Kenai is 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

The shelter would prioritize housing homeless families, but discussions have been had to allow single males and females as well. That discussion is ongoing, and during Wednesday’s meeting a few of the members offered their perspective on the issue.

“While we don’t want anybody to be out in the cold, we especially don’t want young children exposed to elements,” Leslie Rohr, executive director of Love, INC., said.

Karen Martin-Tichenor, pastor of Soldotna United Methodist Church, said that while she agrees with that goal, her experience has been that there are more homeless individuals on the peninsula than there are families.

“I know what we deal with, which is a lot of single men, a few single women, and some families,” Martin-Tichenor said. “So they’re all a concern.”

The next Shelter Development Workgroup meeting will be on Jan. 22 at noon at the Kenai Public Health Center.

More in News

Dr. Kim Thiele stands by a wall of newspaper clippings and images of family members and precursors in his office near Kenai on Monday. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
‘A ministry for me’

Kalifornsky doctor wraps up career after 44 years

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, listens to testimony during a Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday in Juneau. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Bjorkman game seizure bill received warmly in Senate committee

Of the roughly 150 animals the department takes each year, an average of between one and two are determined to be wrongfully seized

A collage of photos of Nikiski North Star Elementary students taking swimming lessons at the Nikiski Pool. (Photo collages provided by Nikiski North Star Elementary)
Community effort puts 200 Nikiski North Star students through swimming lessons

The lessons covered “everything,” from basic flotation to constructing rough-but-functional life jackets out of clothing

From left, Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, hugs Rep. Stanley Wright, R-Anchorage, after House passage of sweeping education legislation while Rep. Maxine Dibert, D-Fairbanks, watches on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
House passes BSA increase, with other education provisions

The bill now goes back to the Senate, where lawmakers must approve the bill as-is before it can head to the governor’s desk

Rep. Justin Ruffridge speaks about
House considers, rejects multiple school funding amendments during Wednesday floor debate

Over several hours, lawmakers considered six different increases in the Base Student Allocation to public schools

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan addresses members of the Alaska Legislature in the House chambers on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dismissing critics, Sullivan touts LNG project

During his annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday, the U.S. senator said state leaders should be doing everything they can to make the project successful

From left, Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, east side setnetter Ken Coleman and Konrad Jackson present information about a bill establishing a voluntary buyback program for east side setnet fishery permits during a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate committee hears setnet buyback bill

The East Side of Cook Inlet Set Net Fleet Reduction Act is sponsored by Nikiski Sen. Jesse Bjorkman

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, speaks in support of debating an omnibus education bill in the Alaska House Chambers on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Tie vote kills early House debate on education funding

Lawmakers went into an hourslong recess that ended with adjournment until Tuesday morning

Most Read