Borrowing somewhat from a Kevin Costner film, one Soldotna City Council member expressed community angst that if a homeless shelter is built, homeless people will come.
During a public hearing on a Soldotna transitional housing center proposed by Kenai-based Love INC, council member Jim Stogsdill asked what would happen if shelter clients were not taking steps to improve their own situation.
“It appears it would be difficult to eject them,” Stogsdill said.
Ingrid Edgerly, executive director of Love INC, said case managers would select only people who are “highly motivated to improve” as those who would be allowed to move into the Family Hope Center being proffered as a solution to homelessness in the central Kenai Peninsula.
“The case manager would be the one who moves them for dismissal,” Edgerly said.
The homeless shelter, modeled after the Safe Harbor Inn in Anchorage, would be a 30-unit, two story facility to be built on city-owned land next to the Alaska State Troopers E Detachment post on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
In addition to use of city property, Love INC is seeking the city’s endorsement of the idea in order to apply for an Alaska Housing Authority $1.5 million grant.
If approved, Love INC “would be in line to get the grant in 2008 and begin construction in 2009,” said Dan Thornton, president of Love INC’s board of directors.
“The facility will accommodate single-parent families, intact families, single adults, people with disabilities and veterans,” said Edgerly.
“Everyone staying at the Family Hope Center ... will come through case management and will be housed there on a month-to-month basis,” she said.
The shelter will not be for women in crisis or teens alone.
Responding to questions from city council members, Thornton said, “No one on the sex offender list is allowed into the facility.”
The preliminary plan calls for each of the 30 units to have two double beds or a combination of bunk beds and a double bed, a full bathroom, microwave, refrigerator, coffee maker and television set.
The building will include a kitchen, eating area, lounge, play room for children, community center, laundromat for guests and office space.
Thornton said residents of the Family Hope Center, which should be thought of as a nonprofit hotel, would have to pay to stay there, “and, as with any other hotel, they would be treated as a guest.”
Eighty percent of the facility’s operating costs would be paid by the monthly fees, he said. The remaining 20 percent would need to come from donations.
Testifying in support of the shelter, Jon Walters, pastor of United Methodist Church of the New Covenant in Kenai, said homelessness is not usually the issue; it is a symptom of poverty.
“I think this is just a great idea and I thank Love INC for bringing it forward,” Walters said.
Also speaking in favor of the project was Cheri Smith, executive director of the LeeShore Center in Kenai, a resource center for women in crisis.
“The transitional housing they’re proposing is a wonderful idea for our community,” Smith said.
Karen Ruebsamen, homeless liaison for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, said, right now, she has identified 22 families on the peninsula who are living in motels or hotels or are in sub-standard housing.
“I anticipate reaching 84 by the end of the school year,” she said.
Ruebsamen also said the peninsula has a large number of young people who are homeless, often referred to as couch surfers.
Council member Ed Sleater asked Ruebsamen how many of the young people end up dropping out of school.
“It’s very high ... 23 percent,” she said. “It is a reckless lifestyle.”
Edgerly said about 25 percent of the calls for assistance that come to Love INC are based on housing.
“They have no housing; they don’t have enough to pay the rent; they cannot pay their utility bills,” she said.
Mayor Dave Carey asked the 20 people attending the public hearing for a show of hands to indicate support of the Love INC proposal.
Everyone’s hand went up. No one opposed the idea and no alternate homeless shelter plans were offered.
The council is to take action on the idea at its next meeting, Oct. 25.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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