A spate of cold weather this winter sharpened concern among those working with the homeless, and inspired a memorandum from the Homer City Council last week recommending the planning commission draft an ordinance allowing area churches to provide temporary shelter.
Council member Shelly Erickson brought the memorandum to the council, saying she was approached by agencies working with the homeless who said there was a need for temporary shelter opportunities in the community while efforts continued to create a more permanent facility. She said the only option for those in need right now is to spend a lot of money for a few nights in a hotel room.
"They could use that money for food instead," she said. "This would provide a safe place for you to be until we get these other things in place."
Council member Catriona Reynolds agreed, saying people she met through her work with the syringe exchange program sometimes debated selling their jacket just to have enough money for a night in a hotel room.
"It would just be great to have someplace people could go," she said.
The memorandum approved by the council offered some suggestions for parameters for the temporary shelter facilities, saying the length of stay should be limited to a few days and the time of operation should be evening hours only. The council suggested the facilities operate October through April.
Bob Bornt, a behavioral health counselor with Seldovia Village Tribe Health and Wellness, said he has observed firsthand the dire need of those who have no place to live in Homer. He even purchased a low-income housing facility in an effort to help meet the need. Now, he said, people come to him every week looking for a place to stay. He hopes to create a program similar to one in Oregon that rents tiny houses that are available for short terms at minimal cost. People would also be encouraged to connect with other support agencies in town that would help address the causes of homelessness where needed.
Bornt and others testified that an effort is underway to create a more long-term shelter with a continuum of care for those who suffer from homelessness — but for now, changing city code to allow churches to offer temporary shelter during the winter months would meet an immediate need.
This story first appeared in the Homer Tribune and is republished here by permission.