In its heyday, Community Schools offered a wide range of programs, from sports to adult education — all available after hours in school buildings (primarily Blatchley Middle School). The Sitka Health Summit believes that there is a lot of promise in that template. “With Community Schools, we know it can be great — because it was,” said planner Doug Osborne.

The Sitka Health Summit has set a pair of ambitious targets for the coming year: ending homelessness in Sitka, and reviving Community Schools.

About 40 planners convened last week (Thu 9-23-21) in an annual exercise to distill hundreds of ideas down to these two.

The Sitka Health Summit has been involved in everything from food security, to public art, to building an accessible playground in the heart of downtown.

This year’s first goal is a serious departure from some of the feel-good projects of the past — and may be the coalition’s biggest project yet.

“The first idea is to end homelessness in Sitka,” said Doug Osborne, a health educator with the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.

In a presentation to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce on September 29, Osborne brought the problem of homelessness in Sitka into perspective. He said between 15 and 17 people are chronically homeless in the community — and a workable solution has been developed over the last four years by the Sitka Homeless Coalition. And now the Summit is throwing its weight behind the plan.

“And what the goal entails is building 12 dry cabins to serve chronically homeless people,” said Osborne. “And there’s some Mental Health Trust land up on Jarvis Street. And what they’re saying is that, ‘Yes, this is an option, we need to see community support.’ And that’s where this comes in.” 

Osborne said that the Summit begins with hundreds of ideas that are pared down gradually as participants workshop them over the course of the planning day. The objective is to pursue something achievable, and Osborne says the second goal fits the bill perfectly. 

“With Community Schools, we know it can be great — because it was,” said Osborne.

Community Schools is an after-hours activities program for students and adults, that takes place in school facilities. It has been a casualty of district budget cuts over the last few years. Initially, it was outsourced to a contractor for $100,000 a year, but ultimately even that funding was cut and the contract wasn’t renewed. The Hames Center then took on Community Schools for a one-year contract at $25,000.

Osborne quoted Blatchley Middle School teacher — and Health Summit Planner — Kari Sagel on the importance of bringing the program back.

“I remember the days when Community Schools was well funded, they we met all the recreational needs of all the children,” said Osborne, using Sagel’s words, “but it was the homeless and the home troubled kids, we served best. Blatchley became their home, we would have to kick them out and shut the doors at 10.”

Osborne has been involved in the Sitka Health Summit since its inception 13 years ago. He’s participated in 24 summit goals. Although one of many minds behind the program, Osborne’s voice is among the most evangelical. He urged the Chamber to envision Sitka’s future, once the projects have been completed.

“And that’s what my request is for everybody there to think about these two goals,” he said. “And just imagine a year from now, on the next really rainy, stormy night, going to sleep and knowing that every one of your fellow Sitkans and every one of our neighbors had a warm, dry place to sleep, what would that be like? And then take a second to imagine that parents at Blatchley signing up for a camp that their kids are thrilled to go to, and is going to learn and grow.”

Planning meetings for both projects begin in October. Learn more about how to participate by visiting the Sitka Health Summit online.