Ketchikan’s main homeless shelter is shutting its doors for good

a homeless shelter
After two years operating out of the city-owned Park Avenue building, First City Homeless Services announced on June 10, 2024 that the organization was shuttering. (Michael Fanelli/KRBD)

Ketchikan’s main homeless shelter, which had recently been serving more than 200 participants, will close for good this week. The surprise announcement came from First City Homeless Services, the organization that runs the shelter. The organization shared a letter Monday from its board of directors, saying that after 16 years of operation, they’re shutting down.

In the letter, the board wrote that “continual obstructive behavior” from the Ketchikan City Council led them to the decision.

CEO Deborah Asper said from the time the group moved into the city-owned building, staff have struggled to keep up with shifting expectations.

“Just constant, you know, ‘Do this, you’re doing this wrong, do this,’” Asper said. “I mean, from what door we enter into, to calling the fire marshal on a building that their departments developed, to the City Council members coming into the building and telling me that I was going to get fired.”

The city had requested that the shelter begin offering 24/7 services and invited it to move into the Park Avenue building, which staff did in August 2022. But the building’s proximity to both businesses and neighborhoods quickly created tensions with the community, which Asper has acknowledged.

The group then found a new location, the old VFW building, which they planned to renovate. That new building wouldn’t have been ready for move-in until at least 2026. And back in March, the City Council voted to end the shelter’s lease at its current location this July.

Asper said they looked for temporary relocation options, but couldn’t find anything available to meet their needs. She also said the board does not want to go back to “warehousing,” or giving people a place to sleep without providing supportive services.

“So you’re keeping them alive to just live this marginalized existence. Rather than keeping them alive, and then working with them to move out of their current situations,” Asper explained. “That model is no longer funded. That model is no longer used. It actually perpetuates all of the issues surrounding homelessness.”

Asper developed a three-tiered model of work and life-skills training for her participants, which she said has been hugely successful, exceeding their own expectations. In the letter, the shelter’s board said that the model could have effectively addressed Ketchikan’s homelessness needs, but the city “is not yet ready to be a leader in this sector.”

The organization will be ending its operations by this Friday. It’s unclear what will become of their hundreds of participants.

Previous articleFamily of man fatally shot by Anchorage police lobbies to view body camera footage
Next articleFeds declare economic disaster for 2023 east Cook Inlet set net season