NEST shelter closure this week leaves uncertainty for patrons

The NEST shelter in downtown Nome.

Nome’s shelter for people experiencing a lack of housing is closing for the season after Friday, May 12.

Starting Saturday, as many as 50 unhoused individuals will be out on the streets.

The NEST, which stands for Nome Emergency Shelter Team, has been a resource for the unsheltered in Nome throughout the winter.

The NEST is operated by the Nome Community Center and is open to patrons each year from November to May. It also opens when temperatures reach -10 degrees Fahrenheit at night. But now, with the annual closure, many will likely sleep outdoors if they have nowhere else to go.

Each night, according to Janice Mixsooke of the Nome Community Center, the unhoused are sheltered and fed at the NEST facility.

Mixsooke is the Community Outreach Coordinator at the center and helps lead the effort at the NEST.

“They’ll sleep under buildings, in abandoned buildings,” Mixsooke said. “And there are some spots along the seawall that they’ll crawl into and sleep.”

A man named Ollie is one of the patrons who utilizes the shelter in the winter. He says he is going to end up sleeping in a vehicle this spring and summer – and he is not looking forward to what comes next.

“We’re all going to be sleeping outside, every single one of us is going to be sleeping outside,” Ollie said. “It is going to be tough for all of us.”

Nome Police Department Chief Mike Heintzelman says, if an unhoused individual is found sleeping on private property, like houses or abandoned buildings, that doesn’t belong to them, they could be cited.

“We would have to treat every scenario on its own merit,” Heintzelman said. “Whether or not someone gets cited for that would all depend on the individuals and how many times they’ve been there, and the situation, etc.”

Heintzelman says his officers consider the level of intoxication of individuals when assessing if they should be jailed for trespassing, rather than cited. He says taking individuals to the hospital, rather than jail, will be how the department responds if they are highly intoxicated.

“If they were that high of an intoxication level, the jail wouldn’t even take them, and it’s a situation that needs to be treated medically,” Heintzelman said.

Mixsooke says that although the NEST shelter is closing, the unhoused in Nome will still have use of the day shelter near the hospital. The unhoused can also go to the Nome Food Bank on Tuesdays and Thursdays to receive non-perishable items.

She adds that every individual that is unhoused in Nome is a person, and not just a statistic – and they all have a story to tell.

“They are people,” she said. “And they have their own stories. There are some that like to tell their stories and it’s really great to hear some of them. It’s also really sad to hear some of them, but they are people.”

The NEST is funded through state and federal grants, local donations and community support.

The shelter is scheduled to reopen in November.

Image at top: The NEST shelter in downtown Nome. Photo by Greg Knight/KNOM