At last night’s Kodiak Island Borough Assembly meeting, Brother Francis Shelter Executive Director Monte Hawver talked about the issue of homelessness in Kodiak – something that has been a problem for decades.
“In the late 1980s homeless people in Kodiak were dying from exposure at an alarming rate. There were some temporary shelters ongoing, including the community Baptist Church, but people were determined there was an obvious need for a comprehensive, permane3nt shelter. Local volunteers approached the Catholic Social Services of Anchorage and with concerted effort there was a shelter built and opened in 1991.”
The Kodiak Brother Francis Shelter became independent of Catholic Social Services in 2007.
Hawver says there are two distinct groups of homeless in Kodiak.
“The first group is who I call the traditional homeless. They consist of people who have fallen on hard times, either from bad luck, bad choices, many from mental illness, and unfortunately we still see a lot of combat vets. In fact the Gulf War combat vets are becoming homeless quicker than any in history, unfortunately. The second group are itinerant workers who come to Kodiak to find work, and in most cases they don’t need very many services other than food and shelter and to just get acclimated to the community.”
He said that over the past 20-plus years the shelter has been open many of the canneries in town have successfully hired workers from the shelter. But Hawver was cautious about the recent buying spree on the Kodiak waterfront by one large processor – likely Trident which recently purchased Alaska Fresh and Western Alaska.
“That’s not to say there aren’t times with problems when people come here, they get hired and then they get fired and then they wind up stuck here. Those folks can easily fall into the crowd of chronic substance abusers and that’s problematic. With the expanded business model we see with some of the canneries I think that’s a real concern gtoing forward. We’ll just have to see how it plays out. I think depending on how it’s managed, it’s going to make a big difference in our downtown.”
Hawver said the Brother Francis Shelter receives substantial community support, and not just from those who still live here.
“It’s still amazing to me how people who left Kodiak years or even decades ago continue to support the shelter. We get a substantial amount of money from all over the country. People, whey they leave Kodiak, they never really leave Kodiak.”
In response to a question by Assemblywoman Rebecca Skinner, Hawver estimated individual contributions total about $160,000.
He also pointed out that the Brother Francis Shelter works to prevent homelessness, and kept 227 families in their homes in fiscal year 2014, while also finding 16 families new housing.