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Shelter From the Cold

Exterior of off-white building in Nome at dawn.

Temperatures in Western Alaska dipped well below zero in the first month of 2019. The harsh winter weather is a challenge for every resident who calls this region home. For those who have no home, it’s life-threatening.

In Nome, there’s a new shelter that offers daytime services for those who have nowhere else to go. The new “day shelter” serves an average of 30 people a day. Some of them would otherwise be “sleeping in snow banks,” says Lance Johnson, the director of mental health services at the Nome hospital and one of the coordinators behind the new shelter.

The Nome day shelter complements the efforts of another shelter that, in recent years, has catered to Nome’s homeless during overnight hours. Together, they now offer warm places of rest, 23 hours a day, for those down on their luck. It’s the most comprehensive slate of services ever available for the homeless in Nome.

Snowy sidewalk and large sign reading "Nome Alaska" along a wood-paneled building on a winter's day in Nome.
Front Street, Nome, March 2017. Photo: David Dodman, KNOM.

The impact has already been profound. Shelter worker Jeffery Rose says his clients welcomed the new shelter with enthusiasm — a reason to stay sober. Jeffery says “they are able to do a lot more because of (the shelter)… They aren’t out there (in the cold); they are able to eat and stay warm.”

What’s more, the shelter gives people who are homeless or unable to return home a new way to access mental health services. Many of the people being served in the day shelter might balk at the idea of formal therapy appointments, says Lance, but inside the shelter, it’s a different story. “We’ve got folks in here that may never ever come through the behavioral health services door, but if we can build those relationships, build that trust, build that rapport without any strings attached, then the opportunity will present itself at some point when they are ready.”

Read more right here at knom.org.

Images above and below: Living on the streets of Nome, especially during wintertime, is difficult on body, mind, and soul. A new “day shelter” on the first floor of a repurposed building in downtown Nome (pictured at top) now allows for homeless services (photo credit: Davis Hovey, KNOM). One of the people behind the effort is Lance Johnson (pictured below), director of behavioral health at the local hospital and, in his off hours, a KNOM volunteer deejay.

Man stands behind radio microphone with racks of CDs behind him.
Lance Johnson inside KNOM studios, June 2018. Photo: David Dodman, KNOM.