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Bethel's Winter House closes for the season

Jaela Milford

Bethel Winter House closed after a seven-month winter season. KYUK's Francisco Martínezcuello sat down with Executive Director Jaela Milford to talk about how it went.

This conversation has been edited for clarity.

How was the season? Do you call it a season?

Yeah. So this was the winter season 2022 to 2023. It was seven long months, as everyone knows, this was a cold winter. But we served around 300 individuals total. So that's unique. Every single person has a different name. And so there are 300 people plus in this community that needed warehouse services this past seven months.

How do you feel it compares to previous years?

Just as busy, I feel like I see new faces every year, every week, every month. There, of course, are individuals that do use the shelter all year round, or the services all year, during the winter. But there are always new faces that come in, which is always surprising.

And are these community members, mostly men, women, or you don't know, or is it just mixed?

Winter house receives more men than women? I would say 75%-25% male to female. That just kind of depends. But we do see primarily males between the ages of 25 to like 45.

And are they? Are there any other trends that you've noticed?

Yeah, almost, I would say 95% is Alaska Native. These are the individuals that have lived here their entire lives, their families have lived here their entire lives, and yet they do not have housing and they do not have stability.

And where do these folks go now that the winter house is closed?

Unfortunately, I'm not really sure I know a lot try to spend time with family friends. When the river opens up again, fish camp is very popular. But there are individuals that spend time out in tents and alongside the river, and in abandoned cars and buildings.

And I guess, do you work in conjunction with a police department? What do you do during this offseason?

Primarily we try to unfortunately focus on the next winter season. It is a struggle every year to get enough funding. And so my primary focus during the summer is to lessen all of my expenses and try to build up for that $300,000 budget that I need for every season.

How did this year as compared to previous years financially?

We did well, we'd had a lot of sacrifices, a lot of donations, a lot of volunteer effort. But we did about the same as we did last season. So we broke even I would say we didn't we didn't lose a lot of money. But we didn't make a lot of money either. So it was a struggle, though. And it's something that hopefully will change in the coming months with upcoming revenue and resources.

And you've received grants from the city or you apply for grants in this for the city, right?

Absolutely. So the Community Action grant that the City of Bethel has is amazing. I was just trying to think of a number before I came in and I think they've given us around $30,000 this past quarter — this past year, I should say. And so that's been a huge help. And so we always always apply for that community action grant and it's always well appreciated when it's received.

And finally, like how can folks in the community help out?

Always awareness just knowing that we are around all year round, even though we are not open for overnight stay. We always need funding and so obviously monetary funding is always nice. If you want to visit our website at Bethel winter and give some money that would be awesome. And then just the community itself we have a board that's a little lacking in members and so we'd love individuals that are focused on homelessness. Have a real passion for it and want to have some solutions. We'd love them to join the board and get some work done.

Francisco Martínezcuello is the KYUK News Reporting Fellow and a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.