One year in, Nikiski shelter has served over 100 clients
It’s been a year since the Nikiski Shelter of Hope opened its doors to serve the Kenai Peninsula’s homeless population.
Since then, the shelter has seen 82 adults, 27 children and 17 pets, said Leslie Rohr of Love In the Name of Christ, the organization taking point on the shelter.
“What it has shown us is there was definitely a need,” she said. “And one size does not fit all.”
The Nikiski Shelter of Hope opened to clients just after Christmas 2021, following a years-long process, stymied by challenges finding a shelter location. An earlier shelter in Kenai shuttered in 2013 due to a loss in funding.
But Rohr said it’s largely been smooth sailing so far at the current space, just up the road from the North Peninsula Recreation Center, in Nikiski. The building is a former dormitory with a kitchen and space for 22 clients at a time.
Rohr said all clients come from the Kenai Peninsula, as far as Homer and Seward. She said most people who come to the shelter are living in their cars or in unsustainable group housing.
She said watching people take steps to improve their situations and accept help has been meaningful.
“And to be able to see the change from when people first come in and are timid and kind of withdrawn, to once they’re established and you see them become more involved, engaged in what’s going on — taking pride in the shelter and taking responsibility for doing their chores and looking out for each other,” Rohr said.
At the outset, Nikiski residents said they were concerned about opening a shelter so far from town.
Rohr said location hasn’t been a problem. Love INC purchased a van and works with Alaska Cab and CARTS. Peninsula Community Health Services has offered free transportation for clients going to access services there. Rohr said clients with cars also share rides with others.
One big challenge, though, has been finding longer-term housing for clients.
Rohr said the idea in the beginning was families would live at the shelter for 30 days at a time with a possible extension before moving into housing of their own.
But even with housing help from outside organizations and Love INC, Rohr said it’s been really difficult to find places for clients to live once they leave the shelter.
“In a couple of instances, we have people who have been here almost since the beginning and they're just now coming up on the list to get into housing,” she said.
Affordable rentals are few and far between, particularly in the case of special-needs housing. Rohr said that’s kept some in the shelter longer than expected.
And she said there are gaps in care that the shelter and Love INC can’t address.
“There are people who we are just not equipped to be able to deal with, especially in a mixed population. So there really needs to be some focused housing for mental health,” she said.
And she said 22 beds might not be enough. Rohr said there’s a consistent waitlist of a half dozen potential clients at a time.
Rohr said Love INC is currently footing all the support for staffing and operations — which she said are running about $30,000 a month. The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank has provided an estimated 18,000 meals so far, totalling over 10,000 pounds of food.