Since Love INC closed its transitional living shelter, the Family Hope Center in the Merit Inn in Kenai in July, the organization has found housing for the majority of the families who called the Merit Inn home.
About 22 of the 24 families who were living at the shelter have found housing. The majority of them were able to remain on the central Kenai Peninsula, said Love INC executive director Leslie Rohr.
But at the beginning of December, Rohr said there are still some families in temporary housing.
She said placing some of the families has been “incredibly challenging” because they have had previous evictions or don’t make enough money.
She said a few families tried living together, but some of those situations aren’t working anymore.
“As the winter hits us and spaces seem more confined in the cold, what looked like maybe a good living arrangement three months ago is not looking so good right now,” she said.
Other families camped through the summer, and are now scrambling to find housing, she said.
“I worry every night that I’m going to wake up in the morning and hear that somebody’s succumbed to the weather,” she said.
Still other families are living in substandard housing and the organization is limited in what assistance it can provide, she said.
She said the organization has been able to help with propane heat and gas for generators to keep people warm during cold snaps, but those situations can’t be ongoing because of the expense.
Rohr said the organization was able to put someone in a motel for two nights just before Thanksgiving to get that person off the street and out of the elements for a short time.
She said the organization sees usually a 3 – 4 percent increase in the winter for its services. Love INC also provides clothing vouchers for warm clothing and gives out blankets. It helps with food and transportation, too. But Rohr said the organization wants to do more by providing transitional housing again.
Love INC funded the Family Hope Center at the Merit Inn and Rohr said the organization can’t take on the full financial responsibility again.
She said for Love INC to get a new shelter going, it needs community support and participation.
“It takes community that cares, which I think we have,” she said. “I think there is a lack of awareness especially to the severity of the problem, and I believe that we need to be actively spreading the word about just how many people are involved.”
Once the organization has community support and a ready-to-go plan for a shelter, it plans to seek state funding.
Love INC is looking at a few existing buildings and is also talking with a builder about constructing a new facility. The Merit Inn’s central location made it easy for the families living there to walk to services. If Love INC can’t find another property with a similar access, Rohr said the other option is to work with a transportation service or buy a van and hire an additional staff member to drive people where they need to go.
Ideally, Rohr said a new transitional housing shelter would have 16 units. That number allows for staff to be able to work closely with each family and make sure they’re following their plan to find a job or to seek education to increase employability as well as getting counseling and following addiction programs, if needed.
A timeline for how soon Love INC could open a new shelter depends on if the organization needs to build or remodel or if it secures a “turn-key ready” building, Rohr said.
“If I had a building, we could be open in a week,” she said.
What is certain to Rohr is that there is a need.
“If you have rooms, you will fill them,” she said.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.