On Kodiak Island, one operation takes care of its own

August 17, 2017

When economies take a downturn, there is a very real impact on workers in Alaska’s key job markets. Whether it’s the oil industry, fisheries, tourism or health care, what happens on a national level matters here in Alaska.

Monte Hawver has been the backbone of Kodiak Island’s Brother Francis Shelter for the past 25-plus years and has monitored the health of the economy based on the numbers of struggling people who come through the shelter’s doors.KodiakCBR40_web

“Right now, Kodiak is undergoing a transformation in its fisheries and its housing,” said Hawver, director of the shelter. He is the creator of a homeless prevention program that helps struggling families with anything from past due rent to paying their heating or electric bill.

“With a mega processor purchasing a large apartment building, and the closure of Kodiak's largest mobile home park, we’ve lost hundreds of units of housing. This along with fishing income in decline has made it even harder for families to make a living.”

Providence Health & Services Alaska has recognized the growing need in Kodiak and opened its wallet. Last year, it donated $30,000 to help Hawver keep the shelter and homeless prevention program afloat.

“We would be out of funds for our homeless prevention program if not for Providence’s help,” Hawver said. “The primary purpose of this program is to keep people from being evicted from their home for a myriad of reasons. If they can’t pay their rent we help them, or if they can’t pay their heat or electric, we help them. We strive to prevent homelessness before it happens.”

On a sunny spring day in Kodiak, Hawver's team prepares for the dinner crowd at Brother Francis, where clients can find a hot meal for the evening and a warm bed for the night. The shelter can sleep up to 35 individuals per night, and it feeds 30 to 50 people every day: “We feed three meals every day of the week, every day of the year,” he said.

It’s a busy day and he and his staff are juggling several duties, foremost among them helping others living right on the edge eke out another month’s survival.

“We just had a single mom with two young children contact us last week,” he said. “She didn’t have enough fuel and ran out of heat. We’ve had mild winters in Kodiak the last few years, but this year it’s been cold. It’s still cold even now. We made sure she had a portable heater and a working smoke detector, and explained to her how to open her cupboards under the sink so her pipes wouldn't freeze.”

The next day, Hawver said, he was able to contact the oil company and have fuel delivered to the client, thus helping another family make ends meet.

“I can remember when we helped 50 families a year and I thought, ‘This is insane,’ ” Hawver said. “Now we help 300 families a year. There’s that much need.”

Half of Providence’s donation is keeping the homeless prevention program running and half goes to the sheltering and feeding program, Hawver said.

“We would have exhausted our homeless prevention funds for this fiscal year,” Hawver said. “The need is so much greater than the grant funds we’ve had for the last few years, we would have shut down the program by February.”

Hawver said both the shelter and the homeless prevention program have come a long way since they began back in the early ’90s. It’s unfortunate, too, because nothing would make him happier than being put out of a job. That means no family would be in need, no individual would be without a home.

“The key to dealing with homelessness is the prevention portion,” he said. “You catch it before they end up homeless. The prevention part not only has an impact on the direct family, but the schools, the community as a whole. Family is the core of a community and society. Any time you can keep a family whole, or make a family whole, you are positively impacting society as well.”