More than 260 families have called Love INC’s transitional living shelter, the Family Hope Center in the Merit Inn in Kenai, home since the center opened in December 2008.
At the end of this month, however, the Family Hope Center is closing its doors for financial reasons. The 21 families living there now will have to relocate.
Love INC’s lease with the owners of the Merit Inn, Crew Quarters LLC, ends June 30. The organization had hoped to purchase the facility, but was unable to raise enough funds.
“It’s a business decision between building owners and the board of directors,” said Leslie Rohr, executive director of Love INC of the Kenai Peninsula. “It’s an expensive operation, and we have to be good stewards of the resources that come to us. It’s not financially sound to try and operate that facility.”
The organization offered transitional housing at the Family Hope Center for families that were victims of natural disasters, domestic violence and other unfortunate situations.
This year, the organization applied for a legislative grant of $1.75 million that would have funded the purchase of the property, removal of one building and renovation of the main building. The grant was not approved.
Along with being unable to secure a legislative grant, Love INC has also not received enough community commitment and financial support to keep the shelter open.
“We have had this urgent request for two years,” Rohr said. “We have been reaching out to the public for community support, church support and financial commitment to continue the program. Urgency has gone to crisis, and now the doors will close. It’s unfortunate that we could not get people to respond earlier.”
Tammy Miles and Donna Valle, two mothers living at the center, said they are shocked and saddened the center is closing.
“My daughter and I lost everything in the flood in Eagle,” Valle said. “They’ve (Love INC) done so much for my daughter and I since we’ve been here. It’s amazing, and now they have to close their doors. It’s really sad.”
Valle said she is one of the fortunate ones at the shelter. With Love INC’s help, she found an efficiency rental in Kenai to move into with her 12-year-old daughter and service dog.
Miles is still looking for a home for herself, her 18-year-old daughter, and her 7- and 9-year-old autistic sons. She said they may be moving to Anchorage.
“It’s kind of still a shock for me,” Miles said. “… It puts a whole new perspective on my life, but I take it day by day.”
Miles said she has seen people in the community who know about the situation come to the Merit Inn to offer help.
“That’s really nice to see,” Miles said.
Miles said she had a normal life at one point. Then her husband left, she had health complications and she was evicted after living in the same home for 10 years. She said she’s grateful for the four walls and support Love INC has provided to her and her family during the past eight months.
“I’m going to miss them (Love INC) a lot,” Valle said, as tears began to fall from her eyes. “They gave me hope. They gave me respect and understanding. They didn’t judge me or what my situation was. And they found me a place. They’ve just gone above and beyond.”
Rohr said relocation of the families currently living at the Family Hope Center is going “fairly well.” On June 14, the families living at the center were notified they would have to move by the end of the month. Some of the families will move to shelter facilities in Homer and Anchorage. For other families, Love INC is trying to secure permanent housing in the area, but that task has proven somewhat difficult due to a shortage of affordable rentals.
“It puts an incredible strain on the families who are there, and there is no good time for this to happen,” Rohr said. “Fortunately, we are in good weather, and, if people have to use tents for a period of time, they can survive.”
Just because the organization was unable to purchase the Merit Inn doesn’t mean Love INC is giving up. It plans to look for other property possibilities in the area, and will continue to assist people through the organization’s clearinghouse.
Anyone in need of food, clothing, pharmaceutical items, assistance with car insurance or rent, etc., can call 907-283-5683 between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
“We will continue to work at placing people into housing so those services will continue,” Rohr said. “The only thing we won’t have for the time being is the shelter portion. Love INC is not going away. We’re not done helping the community. We are here. We just can’t afford to continue that portion of the ministry.”
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.