NCC spearheads search for camp site for homeless people
When the NEST shelter closed for the season at the end of May, the Nome Community Center offered tents to those who need shelter during the spring and summer months rather than letting homeless people sleep in abandoned vehicles or unoccupied buildings. “We believed that a tent was better than no shelter or sheltering in dilapidated buildings and wrecked vehicles,” wrote NCC Director Rhonda Schneider in a letter to the Nome Common Council.
Schneider estimates there are between 25 and 34 individuals who could potentially benefit from a tent. In her letter to the Council she wrote that they have been orderly and tidy in the area around them. One result is there are fewer people congregating on Front Street, but no matter where the “tenters” have settled, they’ve been asked to move. Because of this Schneider requested the city council to designate a section of Middle Beach, close to the Mini Convention Center, as a place where campers can pitch their tents. Kawerak has offered to cover the cost of portable restrooms and the Nome Community Center would monitor the site to ensure that it stays clean and properly maintained.
“A safe place for 20 people or so to put up a tent is an OK thing to do,” said Schneider. “We have in mind that we would sort of run it like a campground. They would register, they’d have a site assigned to them.” The NEST shelter is planning to open a month early this year so the designated site would be used until Sept. 30.
City Manager Glenn Steckman was quarantined until Monday and had not been able to get out and inspect any of the proposed sites for the tents. Issues include code requirements and location of bathroom facilities. Steckman and Interim Mayor John Handeland are looking at several sites in addition to the Middle Beach location suggested by the NCC. “We’re looking at legal and property matters with a number of sites and we’re trying to find the one that best serves the needs of the homeless population as well as the community as a whole,” said Handeland. He expressed concern that something permanent might be established in the chosen location.
One suggestion was to use the skating rink, which is located on city property and is not utilized during summer months. It is sheltered from the wind and has plenty of space for social distancing. Also, it has good lighting when fall approaches. But it is far from the Mini and Handeland fears that people will just find a convenient car to sleep in rather than walk to the rink.
In addition to finding camping space Schneider expressed to the Council her hope that the Mini Convention Center would be available to house the NEST shelter over the winter. “At this time, we do not have a location large enough to physical distance sleeping mats at our usual location,” she said.