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30 of Nome’s ‘chronically homeless’ staying at local hotel, other temporary solutions in place

Snowy sidewalk and large sign reading "Nome Alaska" along a wood-paneled building on a winter's day in Nome.

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Temporary housing options are the main solutions Bering Strait Regional Housing Authority and other agencies have been able to use lately to keep the unhoused in Nome off the streets. But local residents may have also noticed a recent spike in people “living” on Front Street over the last few weeks.

Part of that increase came from 30 individuals temporarily being housed at the Nome Nugget Inn who were displaced for a couple weeks during Iditarod. Those individuals were able to go back to the hotel on Friday, March 25, BSRHA Regional Housing Manager Colleen Deighton said.

“It’s putting an added strain onto the NEST, which is the Nome Emergency Shelter Team, and onto individual families who are suddenly finding themselves with cousins, uncles, nephews, nieces who suddenly need a place to stay for two weeks,” Deighton said.

Again, those 30 individuals who BSRHA was putting at the Nome Nugget Inn have returned to their rooms. Still, Nome and the Bering Strait region remains the third-highest overcrowded region in the state, compared to other Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act designated regions. That makes it difficult to find enough apartments or permanent housing for the people who need it. Inadequate housing is one of Nome’s top issues, according to a Kawerak community needs assessment.

NCC’s housing program rents existing units from the community for their clients, Nome Community Center’s Housing Resource Coordinator Liz Johnson said. Right now, NCC has the potential to rent eight apartment units, but, “when there are no apartments to rent in Nome, then NCC doesn’t have enough housing to provide for its clients,” Johnson said.

The Community Center has only been able to rent six apartments lately due to the housing shortage in Nome, Johnson told KNOM.

This problem also impacts incoming teachers working at the Nome-Beltz School District, traveling medical professionals employed at Norton Sound Health Corporation and seasonal workers of various trades coming to Nome in the summer for work.

In part due to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program from the federal government, BSRHA has been able to seek alternative options for housing in Nome, Deighton said. Not just apartments, but using temporary shelters and even paying for monthly rooms at the Nome Nugget Inn.

“Our own waitlists for the apartments the Housing Authority owns are extensive. Every landlord I know is full up,” Deighton emphasized.

Some residents have proposed a potential solution to the lack of housing in Nome, to repurpose existing rundown or abandoned buildings in the city. But the Bering Strait Regional Housing Authority has too much red tape on its funding to make that solution feasible, Deighton said.

“There are many, many derelict houses in this town. And people who are not in the programs say to me ‘Oh, why doesn’t the Housing Authority just buy those derelict houses and fix them up?’ And the answer is, one: they’re not for sale. People own those,” Deighton explained. “And two: our guidelines for housing because we are funded through HUD, have criminal background requirements, have credit check requirements, have former landlord requirements, have number of people in a house requirements.”

The Nome Community Center is working on a solution to help alleviate some of the local housing issues and provide permanent housing for the chronically homeless. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has its own criteria to define someone as chronically homeless, such as staying in places not meant for human habitation for long stretches of time. There are at least 30 individuals in Nome who are considered chronically homeless based on HUD’s criteria, according to Johnson.

NCC’s Housing First project, Homeplate, would establish a 15-unit complex on 6th Avenue near the baseball fields adjacent to the Nome Rec Center, Johnson said. However, that complex is only intended to house 15 individuals out of the approximately 30 in Nome who are chronically homeless. Based on the current timeline for Homeplate Johson shared with KNOM, that complex won’t be opening its doors until 2024.
*CORRECTION: This article previously stated the 15-unit complex would house 30 individuals, when actually it will only fit 15. KNOM regrets the error and apologizes for the mistake.

The Housing First project, plus the relief provided by the Emergency Rental Assistance Program can only address part of Nome’s housing crisis, not solve the longstanding issues. And the federal rent relief money will stop by the end of this year, at which point all of the unhoused temporarily staying at the Nome Nugget Inn will once again be searching for scarce housing in Nome, Deighton with BSRHA said.

If you are seeking rental assistance in Alaska, click on the link below for additional resources:
Alaska Public Media’s Jeff Chen contributed to this report.

Image at top: Front Street, Nome, March 2017. Photo: David Dodman, KNOM.

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