Day shelter takes shape in Nome
A day shelter where discharged hospital patients can go to stay out of the elements, get counseling and avoid the dangers that might lurk on the streets of Nome is in the preliminary stages of becoming a reality.
At the Norton Sound Health Corporation Board meeting last week CEO Angie Gorn discussed it briefly, describing it as a place, which fills the gap when the NEST overnight shelter closes up in the morning until it opens up again at night.
“This is a fast moving project and has a lot of pieces to get in place,” said Lance Johnson of NSHC’s Behavioral Health. He is charged with organizing the project.
“We want to do something that’s going to be effective. By doing it as a pilot we’re going to find out how many people are going to take advantage of it, and more importantly how many people we’re going to be able to engage into services and then recovery, hopefully,” he said.
Johnson emphasized that they’re still trying to sort out how it’s going to look.
The building currently under consideration for the project is at 200 First Avenue and is called the BIA building. According to historical documentation, it was originally built in 1913 as a detention center for the insane. The federal government bought the lot for $250. As Alaskans judged to be insane were shipped to Portland, Oregon for confinement, the building was soon transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for offices and staff housing.
In 1922 it was transferred to the Bureau of Education, Department of the Interior. At that time the Department of Education administered the reindeer service so the building was known as the reindeer office. According to a historical account furnished by the City of Nome it is one of two examples of the large-scale architecture of gold rush Nome. The other is Old St. Joe’s. The BIA building was on the very edge of the 1934 fire and survived.
According to Johnson they are looking at this building as the place but if something better comes along there could be a change of plans.
“We’re looking to have a place where people can go to further recover when they are discharged from the hospital,” said Johnson.
Emergency room visits on a regular basis by a relatively small number of individuals is costly for the hospital. The idea behind the day shelter is that when these patients are discharged they will have a warm, comfortable place to go to. There they will be engaged with Behavioral Health Services and other community support entities such as public assistance and vocational rehabilitation. “We need a community wrap-around on this to help folks out who are ready to receive that type of help. If they’re not ready at that point then maybe they will be the second time we engage with them or the eighth,” said Johnson.
“Instead of them not having a place to go — and some folks won’t upon discharge from the hospital — now they would have at least an option other than being homeless. It will be a place where they can further recover. So you have those wrap-around services, you have some social opportunities for them as well. And then you have a place where they can further recover if they’re still a little groggy.”
NEST opens on November 1 and Johnson is hoping to get the day shelter open by then. “It won’t satisfy 24 hours of coverage but it’s going to get us further than we are now for sure,” he said.
“It is a pilot program so we’re going to see if does appear to have some level of effectiveness. And that could be just keeping people safe and a place to go, so it means it’s being utilized. A positive result would be to see the emergency room visits decline from some of the regular patients. They can come in three or four times a week.”
The Nugget asked Johnson about non-hospital guests and the homeless.
“Some of the folks out there don’t need the hospital, thank goodness. They might be really good peer support for the folks who are discharged from the hospital and coming in there. And they also may need that safe place to go,” Johnson said. “There are plenty of people who still need help, plenty of people who are looking for things. Whether it’s behavioral health or whether it’s having access to a computer and a warm environment and a cup of joe and being able to do a job search. So that’s what we’re looking at.”