Bethel Winter House Faces Difficulties As Board Members Prepare For the Second Season

The Bethel Winter House underwent its pilot project last winter, providing overnight shelter and hot meals to the homeless living in Bethel, possibly saving lives. Board members want to open the homeless shelter at the beginning of December, but have some challenges to overcome in order for that happen.

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Eva Malvich is the President of the Bethel Winter House, or Uksumi Uqisvik in Yup’ik. She says, before they open, they have to find and train enough volunteers.

Bethel Winter House logo. Courtesey of BWH
Bethel Winter House logo. Courtesey of BWH

“We need a minimum of 60 based on how we did last year, and we are having a heck of a time getting people to sign up. If we don’t have 60 people signed up by the end of November we are going to have to meet as a board and decide whether we can open it or not,” said Malvich

Malvich says according to their policy, there will have to be two volunteers each night to run the shelter. She says volunteers will work twice per month, overnight, from 9pm until 7am.

Last year, Malvich says they ran the shelter with 20 volunteers and that wasn’t enough. They were overworked and burnt out. She doesn’t want that to happen again. As of Monda, November 10, ten volunteers have been trained so far, that leaves fifty more that have to be trained by the end of the month.

With winter ahead, Malvic says the community needs to get more involved for the hundred or so homeless living in Bethel to have a safe, warm place to stay.

“The whole purpose for this winter house is to prevent death by exposure for people in this community. There’s no reason why somebody should die from exposure because we’re in the 21st century. We have a big group of people in this community that experience homelessness. Last year there was a count of 100 people and 36 of those are children. It’s a community solution to a community problem.”

Malvic says the shelter has some good news on the funding front. Winter House officials announced last week that Conoco Phillips is contributing $5,000, the biggest donation yet. That brings the winter house one step closer to their goal of hiring a part time volunteer coordinator. There is also a possibility that the shelter will get a $13,500 grant from the state.

However the location of the shelter is still in discussion says Malvic. She says they might elect to rotate the shelter church to church, like last year – but that’s still up in the air.

You can find Bethel Winter House on Facebook.