Uksumi Uqisvik - Our Story
In 2017, the Salvation Army chose to discontinue staffed services in Bethel and sell their building. With the Salvation Army leaving town, the organization merged with the Bethel Lions Club and the Winter House became a sponsored project of the local Bethel Lions Club who provided both volunteer labor and financial support. The Bethel Covenant Church leased space within their building for the shelter from December 1, 2017 through April 1, 2018. That winter was the 5th year of continuous operation.
In 2017, the Bethel Winter house received a State of Alaska CIMG grant, allowing the shelter to hire two independent contractors each night for 10 hour shifts. The shelter still relies heavily on the generosity of individuals, organizations and businesses for financial contributions to maintain operations.
In 2015, the Bethel Winter House joined forces with the Salvation Army, which provided services in Bethel for two years. They operated the Winter House shelter out of a building owned by the Salvation Army for two years.
In 2014, the board decided to expand the operational calendar to provide services from the first day of December until the last day of March; the coldest time of the year.
Fatalities due to exposure during the cold winter months in Bethel has been a long-standing issue. Prior to 2013, the number of exposure-related deaths each winter was around 4-7. In October 2013, the community had a meeting to discuss the issue of homelessness and brainstorm solutions to prevent future deaths.
At the meeting, community members expressed concern for people who were poorly dressed for the extreme cold and without a warm place to sleep other than the local women’s shelter and the Sobering Center. The acting manager of the Sobering Center told the group that in some instances, people would drink too much alcohol just to qualify to stay in the sobering center and out of the cold weather.
The group made the decision to organize as the Bethel Winter Shelter Lions Club. The Bethel Evangelical Covenant Church and the Catholic Church stepped forward and took turns hosting the shelter for a month at a time, from late December 2013 to March 2014. That first winter, the shelter operated seven nights a week with a staff of volunteers. Each day, they offered a hot meal in the evening and a quick breakfast in the morning. They also distributed donations of new socks and winter gear to clients when not in operation.
- We are a grassroots, community-led 501(c)3 organization that relies almost entirely on donations and volunteers.
- In 2017, the shelter opened on December 1st, and operated until March 31, 2018. The hours were 9pm to 7am every day.
- The winter of 2018-19 will be the 6th year the shelter is in operation.
- The shelter maintains an onsite security specialist from open at 9 PM until lights out at midnight.
- Most meals are provided by local volunteer cooks.
- The shelter does not turn away intoxicated people, as long as they can maintain and follow rules. In concerning cases, individuals will be sent to the hospital to be evaluated for placement at the Sobering Center. There is no alcohol allowed at the shelter, whatsoever.