Skagway "geezers" gather at the Presbyterian Church for lunch on a recent Friday.

Skagway seniors gather at the Presbyterian Church for lunch on a winter Friday. (Emily Files)

Skagway is working toward building a senior center. A study done as part of that process found that seniors are undeserved. It says the community should take action because the population is expected to double in the next decade.


About 29 percent of Skagway’s population is 55 or older. Right now, there’s a gathering space for them that’s only open in the winter, and there is no designated senior housing.

But the community is looking to change that. A few years ago an ad hoc committee started looking at options. The city offered the old clinic site as a location for a new senior center. The committee started working with an architect but they couldn’t agree on a design. Now, a group of organizations, including the Rasmuson Foundation and Foraker Group is providing consulting to develop a plan for a new senior facility.

As part of that process, planner Barbara Sheinberg was hired to a do a needs assessment – to make sure that if a senior facility was built, it would be used.

“The findings from this needs assessment are pretty unambiguous,” Sheinberg says. “The number of people 65 and older is going to double in Skagway. They’ve got a higher percent than the state as a whole. They already have demand and need and it’s going to double.”

Aging in small town Alaska isn’t easy. But more than 80 percent of the seniors have family in town. Many have been there for decades. That means the majority of them do not want to leave for assisted living homes or more medical services.

Sheinberg looked at the need for services that allow seniors to age in place. Those include personal, in-home and hospice care. Between five and 15 Skagway seniors received those types of services through the volunteer-run Good Neighbor’s program. But Sheinberg says those services are already stretched and they’ll become even more in demand as the population grows.

“If they want to keep seniors in the community and have them continuing contributing in culturally, socially, financially and all the way seniors do then there really are some gaps that need to be filled and the need is only going to grow.”

Finally, Sheinberg looked at the need for senior housing. Other communities like Haines and Juneau have subsidized senior housing. Skagway has none. Sheinberg found that there about 20 seniors in Skagway living below the poverty level. Combine that with Skagway’s high demand for housing and Sheinberg says the town could easily use a dozen apartment units specifically for seniors on fixed incomes.

“Given the shortage of rentals particularly in the summer there are just very few alternatives for somebody to think about if they want to downsize, particularly if they’re on a fixed income.”

This initial study is fairly general. The Foraker Group is planning a more in depth housing market study. It will look at how many housing units the town can support. Then the ad hoc committee and town will continue working toward building a senior center and senior housing, services Sheinberg’s study shows will be well used.