WASILLA, Ak (KTUU) - A recent streak of temperatures well below zero have resulted in calls for an emergency cold weather shelter in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
Unlike Anchorage, there are currently no full-time shelters operating in the Valley; however, groups like My House and Family Promise of Mat-Su do offer transitional housing and assistance to the area's homeless community. In light of the drop in temperatures, a concerned group of citizens says that's not enough.
Ruth Oliver, a former employee at RurAL CAP and Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage, says she and her friend Jessie Talivaa started making calls when she met two young men who were ill-equipped to handle the weather, but had no place to go. After a day of searching, they were shocked to realize that there are no options for emergency shelter in the area.
"I called the non-emergency police line and I was told also there was nothing but maybe I could take them to the emergency room," Oliver told KTUU on Thursday. "I called the ER ... They said they would let them stay and get warm but were going to have them move on afterwards."
At Family Promise of Mat-Su, executive director Ginger Bear says that resources for the homeless have always been limited in the Valley, but the colder weather is magnifying the need for more shelter operations.
"Some people don't have a place to go. They don't have family connections, they don't have community connections- they don't know what to do, and they are here in the valley," she said.
Family Promise staff member Barbara Holcomb says that most of their clients are children, or people with children, with Bear adding that there are at least 500 homeless children in the Valley.
My House told KTUU that their operations are also transitional in nature, offering young people, 18-24, services for a 3-6 month period on average- My House often provides assistance with medical care, addiction treatment and employment training. The transitional nature of the programs is meant to mirror the message of My House's motto: "Offered a hand up, not a hand out."
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough responded to KTUU's questions, confirming that there is no official shelter operating in the Valley at this time. Oliver says she has a team of trained and willing volunteers waiting to staff an emergency shelter at a moment's notice. Several churches have cited issues with insurance as the primary reason for not opening their doors, but Oliver says she will stay persistent until the community starts offering emergency shelter operations to the Valley's homeless population.
"I hear that we don't want it to be another Brother Francis Shelter ... Well I don't want your politics," she said. "I want someone to open a door. I have trained volunteer that are willing to come out here."
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