The Kuskokwim Consortium Library is applying for a Jesuit Volunteer to help Bethel's homeless population seeking shelter from the winter cold.
Homeless people all over the country are finding shelter in libraries during the day. The same thing happens in Bethel, especially when it's cold out. There is a homeless shelter in town, but it is only open from the evening until the morning. During the day, the library is one of the few places left for them to go. But Library Director Theresa Quiner says that it's not enough just to provide a warm place to come in from the cold.
"So we’re hoping to provide more services to these people in the library, and also to work more closely with other agencies in this town that provide services to these people," Quiner said.
A recent survey by the Association of Village Council Presidents found around 40 of the 100 homeless people in Bethel have nowhere to stay.
Bethel has a long tradition of bringing Jesuit Volunteers to the area. Under a plan approved by the Bethel City Council this week, a Jesuit Volunteer couple help the librarians meet the growing needs of the town's homeless at the cost of $12,000 per year. Orutsararmiut Native Council pledged to pay $6,000, the library will pay $1,000, and the city has agreed to cover the remaining $5,000.
Council member Leif Albertson introduced the proposal, pointing to the problem many of the homeless have with chronic alcoholism. He said it makes sense to use some of the city’s earnings from local liquor sales to help them.
“One of the benefits of selling alcohol legally in our community was tax revenue, and the reason that was most mentioned for that was that it could be put towards services, and this is services. This is a great deal. This is a full-time position," Albertson said.
The council unanimously supported allocating the funds.
With recent state cuts Quiner says the library no longer has enough staff to run the library and safely address the homeless guests. The Jesuit Volunteer would report to the library administration and perform regular library duties full time, while connecting the homeless with needed state and federal services. The volunteer would also teach valuable skills.
“Developing classes to build up computer skills, job skills, maybe teach some classes on interview techniques, resume building. We're going to be working pretty closely with the people in the library to find out what their needs are and to start developing classes to help meet those needs," Quiner said.
The volunteer would begin next fall when the 2017-18 school year begins. Quiner says Jesuit Volunteers have an extensive track record in Bethel.
“Some people that work at KuC used to be JV’s, and we know that they have been successful assets for other agencies in town like TWC and the public defender agency," Quiner said. "So it just seemed like a creative way to help people at the library."
The Kuskokwim Consortium Library is owned by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kuskokwim Campus.