Do you know where you're going to sleep tonight?

This past week’s announcement that the Family Hope Center will close at the end of the month due to financial reasons serves to highlight two issues.

First, as the number of families to pass through the transitional living facility operated by Love INC shows, there is a desperate need for services for homeless families and individuals here on the Kenai Peninsula.

Second, addressing the issue in a meaningful way comes with its own set of challenges.

According to Love INC, more than 260 families have passed through the Family Hope Center, housed in the Merit Inn in Kenai, since it opened in December of 2008. Currently, 21 families call the building home.

A 2006 study prepared for Love INC by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage estimated between 400 and 500 homeless individuals on the Kenai Peninsula at any given time, but also noted the number is difficult to pin down.

The nature of homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula is different than it is elsewhere. It’s not as visible. While there are some people living in tents in the woods, we don’t see panhandlers on street corners.

Instead, we see people who bounce from one temporary situation to another. The Kenai Peninsula School District on its website defines homeless youth as “students who lack a permanent, stable, and adequate place to sleep at night. This can include students who are living in a shelter, hotel, tent, or car, students that are ‘doubled-up’ with extended family members or friends because of financial difficulty, youth not living with their parent or legal guardian, or those in ‘substandard’ housing.”

The reasons that individuals and families find themselves homeless are varied, and that a large part of the reason that addressing the situation is so difficult. The ISER report noted that causes for homelessness included not just lack of employment or financial hardship, but also substance abuse issues, domestic violence, mental illness, medical conditions and disabilities. In other words, homelessness is just one of many challenges a displaced person or family may be facing.

And that’s another part of what makes homelessness such a difficult issue to address. Those who try to help will discover that things are complicated, that there are no neat and tidy solutions. Finding a stable living situation is just one part of the equation, but a necessary step before anything else can fall into place.

Leslie Rohr, Love INC’s executive director, told the Clarion that the organization would continue to connect those in need with available services.

But with the Family Hope Center closure, area services are much diminished, leaving questions as to how the issue will be addressed moving forward. The issue appears too big for any one charity to take on by itself, nor does there appear to be enough support to allocate more public dollars to the issue.

Despite recent vigils, rallies and public awareness efforts, homelessness on the Kenai Peninsula remains an issue that is much bigger than most of us would like to believe. Most of us, if faced with the prospect of homelessness, would have no idea where to turn. Yet there’s hundreds of people in our community who aren’t sure where they’re going to sleep tonight.

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