Work continues to aid peninsula homeless

Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2004

A group of dedicated Kenai Peninsula residents still is working to find a way to meet the needs of the area's homeless population. Though progress isn't coming overnight, potential organizers of the Kenai Interfaith Shelter Services are moving forward with plans for a network of agencies to serve those in need of housing.

The group started meeting earlier this winter to discuss the possibility of creating a network modeled after the Interfaith Hospitality Network, which was founded in New Jersey in 1986 and now has outposts across the country.

The program would work like this:

Participating churches or organizations would be teamed based on their size and ability to provide services. Larger churches would be responsible for housing for alternating two-week periods, while smaller churches would help by providing food, supervision and other support services.

Within a team's two weeks of responsibility, homeless guests would spend nights at Church A. For the first week, Church A also would provide dinner, cold breakfast materials and a congregation member to spend nights with guests. During the second week, the guests would remain at Church A, but members of Church B the smaller congregation would be responsible for meals and supervision.

Committee members with the Kenai Interfaith Shelter Services admit they are in a preliminary planning stage for developing such a network. Meetings were held in December, January and February, and the group provided community information at the Village Fair earlier this month.

Members also have been surveying area church congregations to determine their service abilities and willingness to participate in the plan.

But the group also has struggled with the overwhelming nature of the issue of homelessness. Discussions about the network have led to conversations about the breadth of the problem in the area and to brainstorms about other possible methods of service, ranging from a day shelter to a permanent single-site night shelter to a resource network to let people in need of help know what exists in the community.

Then there's the problem of people. Jane Stein, who works with Bridges Community Network and has been involved with the planning discussions, said many people have turned out for meetings and some have said they would be interested in exploring ways they could help if the network got online. But more commitment still is needed, she said.

"We know there are needs," Stein said. "The point ... is what we do to meet those needs. I think we can work together and bring this together, but we need people to commit themselves from the different churches to establish the group.

"Somebody's got to step up to the plate and say, 'This is what we're doing.'"

In the meantime, the preliminary group will send someone back East to gather information on existing shelter networks and bring back ideas for how to make it work on the peninsula.

The group also will keep meeting to try to move forward with plans.

The next meeting will be at 11:30 a.m. April 8 at the Soldotna City Council chambers. Additional parking will be available at the former Gottschalks building.

Stein encouraged anyone interested in the idea to try to attend.

"They need to come and listen to what's going on," she said. "We need to get in touch with more people."



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