Leslie Rohr, executive director of Love INC, (left) and Kathy Gensel, president of Bridges Community Resource Network, Inc., field questions from reporters during a tour of the recently opened cold weather shelter in Nikiski, on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Nikiski, Alaska.

Leslie Rohr, executive director of Love INC, (left) and Kathy Gensel, president of Bridges Community Resource Network, Inc., field questions from reporters during a tour of the recently opened cold weather shelter in Nikiski, on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Nikiski, Alaska.

Half of beds at Nikiski shelter are occupied

The shelter opened at the end of December 2021

Half of the beds at a new cold weather shelter in Nikiski were occupied as of Tuesday, only weeks after opening the facility to residents. The shelter quietly opened at the end of December and welcomed its first resident Dec. 27, Love INC Executive Director Leslie Rohr said Tuesday.

Efforts to establish a cold weather shelter on the Kenai Peninsula have been underway for years, but took a tremendous step forward last September through the donation of a ready-made facility that has previously housed a bed and breakfast, a fish camp, an engineering firm and a medical building.

“Things are going well,” Rohr said Tuesday.

She said Love INC opted for a quiet opening for the facility because they were working out kinks, but that 11 of the facility’s 22 beds are occupied. Among the residents, Rohr said, is a family with school-aged children. Getting them to school every day is one of the learning curves, Rohr said.

The opening of the facility came less than one month after a somewhat tumultuous town hall event that saw Rohr field questions from Nikiski residents. Among the concerns raised by attendees were safety and transportation, but by the end of the night some said they felt better about the shelter.

“I think there was some change of attitude that night and so that, you know, that’s been a positive,” Rohr said. “ … We still meet some resistance, but, you know, we expect that wherever the shelter would have been.”

Rohr said the shelter received an inquiry from the Kenai Police Department last Saturday, who were looking to refer someone to the shelter. The individual ultimately did not end up at the shelter, but Rohr said a bed would have been available, illustrating the impact of the referral partnership the shelter has with local law enforcement.

“It’s awesome,” Rohr said. “They have, you know, direct access to us.”

Shelter operations, which are expected to cost between $12,000 and $15,000 per month, received support through a $50,000 donation from the estate of George Pollard through the Kasilof Community Church, Rohr told town hall attendees last month. Rohr also mentioned that they had received a $54,000 anonymous donation, but confirmed Tuesday that that money will come from the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved awarding $54,000 of a total $154,000 grant from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to the Kenai Peninsula Homeless Coalition to “support homelessness facilities.” Rohr said she initially said the donation was anonymous because the borough had not notified her that the money was coming.

“I could not say, you know, we’re getting $54,000 from the borough, because the borough had not notified us that that was coming,” Rohr said Tuesday. “And, actually, I still don’t think we’ve had any official notice that has been coming.”

Data gathered from previous homelessness outreach events, such as Project Homeless Connect, demonstrate a need for such a shelter on the peninsula. A rough estimate puts the total number of people experiencing homelessness on the peninsula to be about 875 people, but that number is expected to be much higher. The figure includes more than 250 homeless youth as reported by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Those who are homeless and in need of services, or those who know of someone who is homeless, can contact Love INC to complete intake work and see if they qualify for housing at the shelter. Love INC can be reached at 907-262-5140 or at peninsulaloveinc.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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