Friendship Mission provides shelter for the homeless: 'A warm place'

Posted: Friday, May 14, 2010

If Cody Dorrough was not currently staying in the Kenai Friendship Mission, he would be out on the streets or back in jail.

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Photos By M. Scott Moon
Photos By M. Scott Moon
Graydon "Skipper" Cowgill talks Wednesday about the need for a homeless shelter for men on the central Kenai Peninsula as he conducts a tour of the Friendship Mission in north Kenai.

"I came here trying to get my life straightened out," said Dorrough, 21, of Kenai. "There's not a lot of good places to stay for me right now."

Dorrough, who recently served some time in the Wildwood Correctional Complex on drug charges, is just one of some 230 homeless men who have stayed in the Kenai Friendship Mission over the past five years.

"Our goal is for them to get a 40-hour-a-week job and get out there and be a good citizen," said Graydon "Skipper" Cowgill, 69, who began working on the mission in 2004.

The Kenai Friendship Mission is a homeless rescue shelter for men 21 and older. It is currently housed in a old auto repair shop behind the building once known as Eadie's Frontier Club, a well-known bar, hotel, pawn shop and brothel on the North Kenai Spur Highway.

Since its inception, Cowgill has been renovating the old Eadie's building in the hopes to expand the housing offerings from an 8- to 24-man shelter.

"Because of so much work needing to be done we've had to bring the whole building up to code," he said. "It's been a long, slow process."

But Cowgill has faith the labor and construction funds will come through to have the new shelter open this September, complete with a public soup kitchen and a chapel for services to be held nightly.

"Hopefully it's in God's plan," he said. "Everything that's done here the Lord takes care of."

Once the renovations are complete this fall, Cowgill and his wife, Mary Anne, will live in the old auto shop that's now used as the shelter, instead of continually living out of their travel trailer that they park inside the shop during the winter.

"The Lord has said Mary Anne and I can build us an apartment in there," he said.

Cowgill's spirituality is the driving force behind the Kenai Friendship Mission's origin and literal mission.

"I was 50 before I was saved. I look back on my life and the mess it was. It was in worse shape than this building before Jesus got a hold on me," he said, gesturing to the rundown walls of the old Frontier Club. "The difference it made in my life -- I know it can make a difference in their lives."

Cowgill said he was on a fishing trip to Alaska from his native Louisiana in 2003 when he had the divine feeling about the old house of ill repute.

"A voice came telling me I had to do something," he said.

That spirituality became a reality after Cowgill dreamed he would be able to get the property for taxes and he did. He raised a cross outside the building in the fall of 2004 and began ministering to homeless men on the Peninsula the next year.

Throughout the renovation of the Eadie's Frontier Club building a few things have been recycled and reused. A set of stairs from an old oil platform are used to get upstairs from the outside. Inside the chapel, a glass block from Eadie's old bar provides decoration on a small, raised stage in the corner.

"She ministered to the needs of men in a different way than we minister to the needs of men," Cowgill said about Edith "Eadie" Henderson, who started the nightclub, which became a Kenai landmark, in 1952. "I heard she got saved before she died and if she did she's rejoicing in heaven for what's in here today."

Currently, the Kenai Friendship Mission offers the sheltered men three home-cooked meals a day (compliments of Mary Anne) and any transportation needs to and from town. In turn, the shelter inhabitants are required to help with cleaning and chores as well as attend church services every Sunday and Bible study every night.

"We're here to help," Cowgill said. "Whatever we can do to help."

Cowgill said the Mission was at maximum capacity all winter and he had to turn away eight men seeking shelter. Cowgill said that like Dorrough, some men come to the Mission straight out of Wildwood, and some others have needed a place to stay after their jobs have played out.

According to a 2007 study by the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research, there are about 400 to 500 homeless individuals on the Kenai Peninsula per year.

But, Ingrid Edgerly, the executive director of Love, Inc. of the Kenai Peninsula, said that the numbers currently are definitely greater than that.

"I've lived out on the streets," Dorrough said. "It's no good."

The Kenai Friendship Mission, for him, is in a way a form of salvation.

"It's a place to sleep, a warm place," he said.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at

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