Haines doesn’t have a shelter or official services for people experiencing homelessness. There are local organizations that do what they can to help – a lot of the time that means providing a one-way ferry ticket to Juneau, the closest town with a homeless shelter.
So what happens when a homeless couple shows up in Haines, determined to find a place to stay? That happened with Roger and Judy Kley, who slept in shelters and on the streets for three years and just recently found a home in Haines.
Roger, 48, and Judy, 45, laugh at the memory of when they first met.
“When I was down in Washington state, I figured I’d try my hand at working at a little convenience store called 7-Eleven,” Judy said. “And a certain party happened to be my 4 a.m. customer for Marlboro cigarettes and hot chocolate and coffee mixed together.”
Judy and Roger married in 1998, and soon after they moved to Anchorage. Roger says he never expected to end up homeless. But he lost his job, and a few years later he says money he received from a trust fund ran out.
“A lot of people think that homeless people are all alcoholics and they’re not,” Roger said. “A lot of them become homeless the same way I did – loss of income.”
Roger and Judy were evicted from their home in May 2011. Each night, they would line up at the Brother Francis Shelter and hope they could get one of a few dozen beds in men’s and women’s dorms. If they didn’t, they had to sleep on mats on the floor in communal rooms with more than a hundred other people.
But that was better than sleeping outside. Brother Francis has a “30 days in, 30 days out” policy – though Roger says they made exceptions when the temperature dropped below freezing.
“We found a place to sleep outside,” Roger said.
“It was just up the hillside from the shelter,” Judy said. “We made an agreement with the manager than as long as we were gone before him and his customers showed up, we could stay there. It was right behind a Speedy Glass business office.”
“We were more or less like the nighttime security for him,” Roger said.
Judy says it felt like it took months to thaw out from the cold of sleeping outside. When she had the opportunity, she decided to get back to her hometown of Haines.
“When my PFD check come in that one year, I’d already made up my mind that we were coming to Haines one way or another,” she said. “I was getting real frustrated on the stress I was under not having a place to live.”
When they came to Haines, someone in the community called Sierra Jimenez at Southeast Alaska Independent Living, or SAIL. They said Roger and Judy could use her help.
“They were very quiet, they seemed desperate,” Jimenez said. “They did not have a plan.”
Jimenez says SAIL paid for them to stay in hotel that night, and the next day Salvation Army paid for their one-way trip to Juneau so they could stay in the Glory Hole shelter there.
During the year and a half while they were in Juneau, Roger successfully applied for Supplemental Security Income because of his disability.
“I have major depression with psychotic tendencies and psoriatic arthritis,” he said.
Roger and Judy took the ferry back to Haines in the spring of 2014. Now that they had some income, Jimenez was able to help them. She called a friend who had an apartment open and convinced asked them to rent to the Kleys. SAIL paid the deposit on the apartment with a grant from the Chilkat Valley Community Foundation.
Then, Jimenez helped Roger and Judy apply for an apartment in the only affordable housing complex in Haines – Dusty Trails. Those apartments are subsidized by the federal government. Rent is based on 30 percent of the resident’s income. The Kleys had to apply two times, but they were finally successful.
“It was a lot of pieces to pull together,” Jimenez said. “But you guys persevered…And this definitely was a better option. And probably the only option for people living on a very limited income in Haines.”
The Kleys moved into their new apartment November 1st. It’s a sparsely decorated two-bedroom. In the living room, there are two hand-me-down couches and a television. Roger says things feel peaceful here.
“Basically, just being quiet,” he said. “The quiet seems different from when we were homeless. ‘Cause when we were homeless it was practically noisy 24/7. And being in our own place, it’s like ‘Where’s all the noise?'”
After the stress of homelessness, the Kleys feel like they can relax. But they’re still on a very limited income. They have Roger’s social security, which he says is $733 a month, 30 percent of which pays for rent, and a little more than $200 in food stamps.
“There’s a lot of stuff that we need cash for, that some of it’s needing to be put off ‘cause we can’t afford it,” Roger said.
Judy says she’s looking for work.
The Kleys aren’t the only homeless people SAIL has helped. Jimenez says they help, on average, five to ten people each year.
“We see different levels of homelessness,” Jimenez said. “There’s often people who are on the brink of homelessness that come to us. There are people who are living on the streets, there are people in all different levels of homelessness. But a lot more than people know in this community.”
The patchwork of local charities and non-profits that help homeless people here do the best they can, but that often means sending people to Juneau.
“That’s the question I want the community to ask ourselves: is this how we want to deal with homelessness?” Jimenez said. “I don’t know the answer, but it’s a reality in this community. I think that it’s really easy to ship people out, but is that who we are and what we want to do?”
Jimenez is working with three other homeless people right now. One is sleeping on a boat with no heat, another is couch-surfing. She says Roger and Judy’s story is a great success, but unfortunately it’s not the norm.
Later this month, KHNS News will take a look at the local organizations that try to fill in for the lack of homeless services in Haines. They include SAIL, The Salvation Army, churches, and Lynn Canal Counseling.