Tourists use Alaska homeless shelter to grab coffee, snack

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) — Cruise ship passengers have been hanging out at an Alaska homeless shelter to get free coffee and a bite to eat, but few have bothered making a donation, said one of the nonprofit’s board members.

Tourists in Ketchikan often stop by looking for a restroom, and some decide to stay longer, First City Homeless Services chairwoman Evelyn Erbele told the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday.

“If we have a snack, they’ll take the snack and they’ll sit there and watch TV,” Erbele said. “It’s called ‘audacity,’ isn’t it?”

The shelter relies on donations and funding from the city and its borough, and it’s requesting more money from officials. Ketchikan is called the First City because it’s the first stop in southeast Alaska for ships traveling the Inside Passage.

Last year, 38 cruise ships stopped there, bringing 944,500 visitors to this community of 8,200 people, according to the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau. The homeless shelter had 365 visitors that year.

“It’s a shelter, and we don’t turn anybody away,” Erbele told The Ketchikan Daily News on Tuesday (http://bit.ly/1QSGvzX ).

Chris Alvarado, the shelter’s services manager, said he sees why tourists come to the shelter, which is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. six days a week.

“Sometimes some of the stores are not open really early, (so) sometimes people will come up here and get coffee and just hang out,” Alvarado said.

While few people end up donating to the shelter, Alvarado said it doesn’t bother him.

“We are for the homeless, but we’re also for the community, for anybody, who needs a safe place to stay,” he said. “This door is open for anybody who needs resources. … I just can’t see myself turning somebody away for a cup of coffee even if they’re not from here or they’re using the bathroom or if they needed a break from walking around.”

First City Homeless Services has a $77,635 budget this year and is requesting $14,000 from the borough, according to its application.

Ketchikan is widely known for wanting a bridge to connect the island town to its airport on a neighboring island. But that span, which became known as the Bridge to Nowhere, became a deriding example of congressional earmarks and hasn’t been built. Visitors can only reach Ketchikan by sea or air.

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