Nome’s Day Shelter is open
Nome’s day shelter opened on Saturday, December 29 so those without the shelter of a home can now get out of the winter cold.
The NEST gives the homeless a place to sleep and now they don’t have to hide from the wind in doorways, the visitors center, or perhaps a friendly bar which will let them warm up for a while.
“We’ve got 23 hours of shelter,” said Lance Johnson of Norton Sound Health Corporation’s Behavior Health department. He’s been in charge of organizing the project. “People can go from one place to the other. There’s just a half hour operating time between the two entities.”
“We want to do something that’s going to be effective,” said Johnson to the Nugget in an interview last October. “By doing it as a pilot we’re going to find out how many people are going to take advantage of it, and more importantly how many people we’re going to be able to engage into services and then recovery, hopefully.”
The plan is to keep the day shelter going after NEST closes down for the season in April. “So we’ll at least have that shelter capability for folks during the daytime hours.”
The day shelter, which so far doesn’t have a name other than the day shelter, is at 200 First Avenue in what is called the BIA Building. It was originally built in 1913 as a detention center for the insane. The federal government bought the lot for $250. As Alaskans judged to be insane were shipped to Portland, Oregon for confinement the building was soon transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for offices and staff housing. In 1922 it was transferred to the Bureau of Education, Department of the Interior. At that time the Department of Education administered the reindeer service so the building was known as the reindeer office. According to a historical account furnished by the City of Nome, it is one of two examples of the large-scale architecture of gold rush Nome. The other is Old St. Joe’s. The BIA building was on the very edge of the 1934 fire and survived.
The weather on Sunday was very nasty, said Johnson in an interview on Monday. “We had 28 people here through the course of the day. We had 30 on Saturday. This morning is a little big quieter but we anticipate getting more around lunchtime and our numbers will be around that average.”
The Nugget asked if some guests were from the outlying communities here in Nome for medical visits. “We definitely have a healthy local population that’s taken advantage of this, too,” replied Johnson. “Going down the roster for the last two days, it’s more Nome based.”
“We’re looking to have a place where people can go to further recover when they are discharged from the hospital,” said Johnson back in October when interviewed about the shelter. “Emergency room visits on a regular basis by a relatively small number of individuals is costly for the hospital.” The idea behind the day shelter is that when these patients are discharged they will have a warm, comfortable place to go. There they will be engaged with Behavioral Health Services and other community support entities, he said. “They’ll have help with public assistance, vocational rehabilitation, and other services. We need a community wrap-around on this to help folks out who are ready to receive that type of help. If they’re not ready at that point then maybe they will be the second time we engage with them or the eighth.”
One of the shelter counselors was working on a form listing the services a client might be interested in, whether it’s substance abuse treatment or some medical help. “She’s created a spreadsheet so we can keep track of it and then follow up with folks. It’s about getting them the resources that they indicate that they want,” said Johnson.
The shelter is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., seven days a week.