Sitka’s Homeless Coalition is still seeking to build a men’s night shelter in Sitka, and hopes to bring in the city as a partner. At Tuesday night’s (5/28/19) meeting of the Sitka Assembly, Gayle Young spoke to assembly members about the need for a warming shelter in Sitka. She said Sitka’s homeless population is aging.

“75 percent of these men are age 40 and above. Several of them are in their sixties,” Young said. “I just feel like if we as a community can see them as individuals and even individuals who have done their best, and we can help them get into a better situation for our later years it would be to our credit.”

Young said they’d considered over 40 locations for the shelter to no avail. They came closest to securing a slot in the winter of 2017 when the local Presbyterian Church of Sitka applied for a conditional use permit with the plan of turning part of their building into a seasonal shelter that could house up to 20 of Sitka’s homeless.  But the plan screeched to a halt when the Presbyterian Church closed its doors in 2018, citing a shrinking congregation. So the coalition started a “shower project” instead, all the while still looking for a shelter space.

They finally found that space with the city: A parcel of land on Sister’s Lane, between the Sitka National Cemetery and the Alaska State Troopers Academy, where they wanted to place a portable, temporary shelter. Wein wondered if the location could have some unanticipated complications

“I have not walked back there, but I also know that the troopers have a shooting range- is that an issue or concern to have, potentially, people wandering around?” he asked.

Young said it wasn’t a concern. The night shelter and the troopers would be on different schedules.

“I visited with the troopers and I asked them about that. They are busing their people out to the firing range for training- they only use that range at lunch time for remedial work,” she said. “Since I had the thought that we were just going to be there in the evenings and at night during the winter months, I didn’t see that there would be any difficulty there.”

Young said she’d intended to ask the assembly for a month to month lease of the property at Tuesday night’s meeting, but she held off after discovering other parties in Sitka were interested in helping with the shelter.

“Baranof Island Housing Authority is newly considering the need for transitional housing in Sitka. STA Tribal Council is signaling their interest in how this might be met,” Young said. “Just last week the coalition became aware of the Alaska Mental Health Health Trust lands that are in our community- two large parcels and several pieces scattered around town. All of these men are beneficiaries of the Alaska Mental Health Trust.”

Young said she hoped they could keep the option for the lease on the table while the coalition explored these new possibilities, and in the meantime asked that the assembly consider participating in a working group that would be tasked with addressing the potential for a men’s shelter in Sitka.

In other business, the Sitka Assembly…

  • Unanimously passed a resolution that removed Sitka Community Hospital from the state retirement system or “PERS.”
  • Voted in favor of changing residential city zoning to allow for smaller lot sizes reduced setbacks. That passed 6-1 on final reading with Valorie Nelson opposed.
  • Unanimously approved Brandon Marx to an unexpired term on the Parks and Recreation Committee.
  • Heard a report from the Planning Commission, represented by Randy Hughey, encouraging the assembly to move forward with the hire of a new planning director.
  • Unanimously approved early termination of Northline Seafoods Lease at Gary Paxton Industrial Park, and discussed sending assembly member Valorie Nelson and Chief Finance Officer Jay Sweeney to a meeting of the Alaska Municipal League on June 6 that would focus on creating a statewide system for collecting online sales tax.