It’s Cold Out, But Bethel Shelter Won’t Open Until Dec.

Bethel Winter House logo. Courtesy of Bethel Winter House.
Bethel Winter House logo. Courtesy of Bethel Winter House.

The Bethel Winter House, a nonprofit homeless shelter, won’t open its doors again until December. But winter’s come early this year and that leaves the community’s homeless population, out in the cold.

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The weather is getting chillier by the day and the brown-green tundra has turned brown-yellow. A few snowflakes even fell over the weekend. Although the mercury is dropping, the Bethel Winter House, is not scheduled to open until December 1st.

Rick Robb worked with the original founders of the homeless shelter. He says there aren’t many opportunities for the homeless here, to stay warm.

“There’s very few to know, resources in Bethel for folks that are homeless. Whether it’s a temporary homeless or a chronic homeless. I mean we get a lot of people that come through here without a place to live. People tend to float from house to house sleeping on floors and couches. A lot of people stay in abandoned buildings, and that’s proved a problem with some crime and we’ve even had some deaths in the past,” said Robb

Bethel Winter House, relies completely on donations and is run by volunteers. The group formed a Lions Club and started the homeless shelter last December, after six outdoor deaths in the winter before. A January 2013 point-in-time survey of the homeless population said there were approximately 100 homeless people that were sleeping either in a shelter, such as TWC, or on someone’s couch, out in the woods or in an unheated home. Thirty-six of them were kids.

Ross Boring is the secretary for the Winter House Board. He says organizers are overwhelmed by the work involved in running the shelter and it’s been hard to find volunteers to work overnight, especially on weekdays.

“Last year we were very worn out at the end of the three months and all of this depends on us. You know if we don’ have volunteers one night we’ll have to turn guests away and won’t be able to run the shelter,” said Boring.

Boring says that is something they hope they won’t ever have to do. Organizers have applied for grants, including one with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, that would allow them to hire someone to run the shelter, but they have not yet received a response. Last winter the shelter moved from church to church throughout the cold season. Organizers say, along with hiring a manager, they would eventually like to find a more permanent location for the shelter … but for now…

“What people have to realize is that this is a Lions Club, everyone there is volunteers. There’s nobody that’s paid for anything that we’re doing. This is strictly a volunteer organization, it is very difficult for us at times to get volunteers to do the Sunday night up to Friday morning because everyone is working,” said Boring.

This week, overnight temperatures are expected to drop down into the 20’s and 30’s. The Bethel Winter House has spoken to a few entities around the community about the possibility of hosting the winter house, but at the time this story was filed, they haven’t gotten any responses.

Charles Enoch is a reporter at KYUK in Bethel.

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