Voices of the Peninsula: Bridging the gap in homeless services

  • Saturday, October 29, 2016 6:58pm
  • Opinion

Kenai Peninsula Journey Home is hosting a follow up collaborative meeting on Nov. 3, 5-8 p.m. to report back to the community on the meeting previously held at the Armory, and to address service gaps for the homelessness in the Kenai-Soldotna area. The meeting, which will be held at the Dena’ina Wellness Center, will focus on bridging the gaps to address homelessness in our area.

“As is the case with many Alaskan communities, there is a major gap in homelessness services in the Kenai area. Most notably for youth experiencing homelessness as well as individuals needing access to supportive housing. The state coalition plans to work with community leaders to learn more about Kenai residents experiencing homelessness and identify collaborative approaches to filling the gap” said Brian Wilson, Executive Director of The Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness.

“There are six veterans that we know of that are homeless in our community. The veterans in our community are faced with their own specific barriers for services, if a veteran is couch surfing they are not considered homeless under veterans definitions of homelessness, they would be counted as homeless under other definitions,” said Margene Andrus, Board member of Kenai Peninsula Journey Home.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District offers services to homeless students through Students in Transition. The numbers of homeless teens — most of them living with their homeless families — has increased to 255 across the Borough by May 2016. The numbers of homeless people in Kenai appear to be lower. In 2015, volunteers conducted a Point-in-Time count of homeless people in the city of Kenai. They contacted all shelter organizations and walked in the woods to identify the number of people that are homeless in order to document issues that would support funding for housing and services. They identified 31 individuals in shelters, 10 individuals in transitional housing, and 28 individuals homeless and unsheltered. Five of these individuals were veterans and 13 of these individuals were under the age of 18.

All indications are that these counts are significantly lower than the accurate count. The goal of the next critical Point-in-Time count for the Kenai-Soldotna area is to have accurate data that can provide better funding for services in our community.

“I get phone calls on average three times a week from individuals who need help but don’t fit into our program” reported by Ravin Swan, Founder and Director of Nuk’it’un. “The homeless population often doesn’t know where to call and what resources are available. Additionally, many service providers don’t know what resources to refer the homeless to in our community due to these gaps.”

The local partners of the Continuum of Care Committee, which coordinates on homeless services, conduct an annual one-day Project Homeless Connect event that allows people who are homeless or near homeless to access many services at one location. Churches and non-profits offer food, clothing, and housing resources to homeless people, however, there continues to be gaps in services for the homeless population even with the tireless efforts of Love Inc., Lee Shore, and many others.

“After our first community meetings in September, we know there are gaps to be filled in to help the homeless population and now it is time to work towards filling those gaps in services with the community as a whole” Michelle Lesagonicz, Board member explained.

The Nov. 3 meeting will focus on bridging the gaps to address homelessness in our area. The meeting is open to everyone. Light snacks will be provided. The meeting will be held at the Dena’ina Wellness Center, Overland Ave., Kenai. There will be a panel of speakers from several local organizations that work with the homeless population as well as our guest speaker, Brian Wilson, Executive Director of the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness.

After the panel discussion, we will end the meeting with a question and answer time, and a brainstorming session.

The results of the meeting will inform areas in which ways the gaps can be closed to provide even better, healthier services to homeless individuals and families.

The Kenai Peninsula Journey Home awakens hope and honors dignity in every person who seeks comfort, support or assistance through our program and advocates for collaborative locally driven solutions to end homelessness. For more information, contact Michelle Lesagonicz, 907-953-6708 or kenaisoldotnajourneyhome@gmail.com, visit http://www.kenaisoldotnajourneyhome.org/, or find them on Facebook: kenai peninsula journey home.

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