It’s hard to get a true sense of how big of a problem homelessness is in Haines. There is no shelter or centralized service tasked with responding to homelessness. Right now, a patchwork of local organizations helps out people in need. But even they aren’t sure how large the problem is and what the solution should be.
“We had one guy here when I first got here, he slept in the back there for six months until he could get back to Chilkat Lake,” Lt. Dave Kyle said.
Kyle is a corps officer at the Haines Salvation Army. He points back behind racks of second-hand clothing to a room where five or six people have slept over the past three years. Kyle says he’s on “sketchy ground” letting people stay here when they have nowhere else to go. This isn’t a licensed shelter.
“I do tend to push the envelope a little bit in regards to helping my community,” Kyle said.
Sierra Jimenez works for Southeast Alaska Independent Living, which serves seniors and people with disabilities. SAIL and the Salvation Army are two Haines organizations that seem to deal with homelessness the most. Local churches, Lynn Canal Counseling and the police department also help sometimes. Some of the groups, including the Salvation Army, have provided one-way ferry tickets to Juneau, to the Glory Hole shelter.
“[That happens] several times a year,” Jimenez said. “And I don’t know that it’s a solution but it’s the solution that we have here in Haines. And that generally is for somebody who is chronically homeless, truly has no place to go and no resources and shelter is the only option.”
Roger and Judy Kley were in that situation when they showed up in Haines more than a year ago. KHNS brought you their story in December.
“When my PFD check come in that one year, I’d already made the decision that we were coming to Haines one way or another,” Judy Kley said. “I was getting real frustrated on the stress I was under not having a place to live.”
The Kleys came to Haines from Anchorage. They slept in the Salvation Army building for a night or two and then they were sent to the Glory Hole in Juneau. It wasn’t until they got disability income that Jimenez was able to help them successfully apply for a government-subsidized apartment in Haines.
When people like the Kleys show up, Jimenez and Kyle say it would be nice to have a shelter for them. But they’re not sure if there are enough homeless people in Haines to make a shelter worth it.
“You know it’s a really good question and I don’t know the answer to that,” Jimenez said. “It would be so nice to have an emergency bed or two for families that come through while we try to put the pieces together. That would be the dream, the ideal situation.”
“Yes, ideally a shelter would be an excellent deal for it,” Kyle said. “But in the emergency sense, in the crisis sense, I don’t think we have enough [people like that.]”
Kyle says helping people who are at risk of becoming homeless is a bigger concern here than helping those that are already homeless.
“Homeless care is very low on my expenses radar. I just helped a family out with $1300 worth of rent assistance, another family at $65 for electric, another family at $75 for electric, I just sent the guy to Juneau for $37 and I haven’t helped anybody for homeless,” Kyle said.
But he agrees that all of those people are at risk of homelessness if they didn’t have a place like the Salvation Army to turn to for assistance.
Jimenez also says helping people who are maybe a paycheck or two away from homelessness is a more common problem in Haines.
“Sometimes somebody just needs help one month with rent or food and then they can be back on their feet. Other people need education and help budgeting,” Jimenez said. “There’s every different story.”
After KHNS’s December story on homelessness, Haines Borough Manager Dave Sosa contacted the Salvation Army and SAIL to set up a meeting, which hasn’t happened yet.
“There’s plenty of room for discussion on these issues and to take a look at what’s the scope of the problem,” Sosa said. “Because I know that there are some homeless people, but I don’t know how many.”
If Sosa wants definitive numbers, he’s not going to get them. There are a few local organizations responding to homelessness. But there is no organization tracking it.
If people want to put a number on homelessness in Haines, it will require taking a leap and setting up a centralized service, even though the scale of the problem is uncertain.
UPDATE: Haines Police Chief Bill Musser responded to a public records request regarding how many requests the department receives from people who need assistance finding shelter. Musser said “much of what we deal with is not true homelessness, it is temporary displacement due to not paying power bills, loss of job, etc.” He said they also help transient people in need of shelter.
In 2012, the police department had four assistance records, one of whom was homeless. In 2013, there were two requests for assistance. In 2014 there were six, three were homeless people, two transient people. In 2015 to date, there has been one assistance request for a person in Skagway.
Musser said the department usually contacts the Haines ministerial association or Salvation Army to help people with temporary lodging and ferry tickets to Juneau if they are in need of long-term shelter.