780 AM | 96.1 FM | “Yours for Western Alaska”

Proof Positive: Day Shelter’s First Year Results

Exterior of off-white building in Nome at dawn.

“It’s like bringing a family together: sharing, sleeping, and eating. And I’ve noticed in people their attitude has changed a lot. They’re a lot more friendly.”

Robert Soolook of Little Diomede says the day shelter’s guests are treated with great dignity, so it feels like a community.

On past visits to Nome, return has been difficult for him: both due to immense weather delays and his own battle with alcohol. Because he’s had nowhere else to go in Nome, Soolook has ended up sleeping in the cold.

After staying at the shelter for about two months, Soolook went back to Little Diomede earlier this Christmas. In the little island community, he is a hunter, tribal leader, and grandfather.

Lance Johnson, Behavioral Health Services Director, says there are major barriers to wellness.

“Housing and employment are the top two needs for people to build that self-esteem. Until we can figure out the housing situation here in this region, and it is the entire region, we’re going to struggle with this.”

With as many as 30 guests daily, the popular shelter is getting crowded. The day shelter is staffed by recovery coaches who support those guests who struggle with addiction: whether they need someone to talk to, a hot cup of coffee, or access to resources.

Last October, Robert Lincoln says he caught a plane from his home of White Mountain, stayed with a friend in Nome, and went out to the bars. Before long he had overstayed his welcome, with no money to go home and nowhere to sleep.

Robert Lincoln says he finds activities like talking circles, traditional crafts, and playing board games are especially helpful for guests in recovery. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.
Robert Lincoln says he finds activities like talking circles, traditional crafts, and playing board games are especially helpful for guests in recovery. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM.

“I found this place and decided to clean up, and that took a little effort,” Robert shared.

He admits he fell into a nearly annual cycle of coming to Nome, drinking too much, and becoming homeless until his family could pay for a ticket home. But things are looking up for him.

“I do feel as though I’m getting somewhere. I’m working at the NEST at the moment. I was there on a mat, now they’ve hired me for being sober and volunteering my time. I got this far, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Image at top: After opening in January 2019, the day shelter run by Nome Emergency Shelter Team (NEST) is now helping people overcome homelessness in Nome.