Non-profit seeks use of vacant hotel
Recommended prisoners released from Wildwood Correctional Center may soon have the opportunity to received free housing and job training.
The non-profit Christian Ministry Mission plans to use the vacant hotel on the corner of Spur Highway and Main Street Loop in Kenai to house male adults coming out of the prison. The project is called CMM Citadel.
CMM presented its project on Dec. 7 at a Kenai City Council meeting. Ministry director and founder Janna Hancock created a blueprint for the project, but multiple factors, such as its operating budget and offered services, are undetermined.
The project is in its initial stages, and the city of Kenai hasn't received a request for approval.
The vacant hotel, which was previously Katmai Hotel and Kenai Spur Lodge, has 32 units. Hancock said the south side the building facing Spur Highway will house staff as well as local businesses.
Businesses will provide mentoring and job services to the residents housed on the north side of the building, Hancock said.
"There's about 12 units on the north side of the building that would be used for residents, and we wouldn't put anymore than two people in a unit," she said. "But probably for the first year we wouldn't house more than seven males."
A letter of recommendation from a prison chaplain is required along with a letter from the inmate requesting admission to the program and his reasons for doing so, according to CMM's proposal.
A planned community kitchen could offer job training. Workers will gain culinary training and management skills, Hancock said.
And the public pays for meals as they can, she said.
"There's no prices," she said. "It's just a vision, and we don't know if it will work. It doesn't work in every community."
Another business planned for location at the facility is Alaska's Treasures, a jewelry store and repair shop. Owner Robb Jones works out of his home, making jewelry in the winter and selling it in the summer. He said he hopes to help mentor someone with a bit of experience.
"Getting them involved in doing repairs, that would be the main thing I would bring to the project," he said. "There are folks in (prison) that have skills for sure."
Jones began working with CMM three years ago when he helped establish the non-profit's 10 step recovery program, which helps individuals with addictions. He said the program would move to the Citadel if the plans move forward.
Counseling offered by future Citadel Director Crystal Morse and a book and music exchange are among the other businesses planned.
Hancock said she is considering a few locations, but the vacant hotel is the main focus.
Tim Navarre, Kenai City Council member, raised concerns about the project. He said he likes the concept of residents in back and businesses in front, but he unsure about the chosen site.
"I would have to see a full plan and the controls they would put in place to mitigate what that site looks like to the public," he said. "For our tourists, our community, our center town, I don't know if it's the right business plan.
"I honestly don't feel their business plan was complete by any stretch at this point."
The city of Kenai owns the land the vacant hotel sits on, as well as its rear parking lot. Kenai is leasing both parcels of land to Mitak, a limited liability company based out of Kansas.
Mitak owns the building, and the leases aren't due to expire until 2022. Officials can reassign the leases upon approval from city council. CMM would have to buy the building and lease the parcels of land, which are valued at $570,000 and $69,000, according to Kenai Planning and Zoning Department officials.
Another concern raised by Kenai City Council members is duplication of services. Friendship Mission located in North Kenai provides housing, job training and education to homeless men. Churches, businesses and community members fund it.
Hancock said the likelihood of success for men housed in the Citadel is far greater because transportation is not a factor.
"I was a parole officer for five years," she said. "These men don't have the luxury of going right into employment. Giving them this place in this area, we felt like the location was so much better than being further out of the mix of the community."
Friendship Mission is a Christian-based organization. Residents are required to attend nightly Bible study and services on Sunday and Wednesday.
Hancock's organization is a Christian ministry and it requires a recommendation from a prison chaplain. However, CMM is not about religion, Hancock said.
"The primary difference between (Friendship Mission) and us is we're not about religion," she said. "We believe in reaching the men more as emulating Christ and how he would respond to an individual who is broken, like so many of them are when they come out of prison."
CMM's main facility sits on 10 acres located in Elmdale, Kan. It consists of a five-acre fruit orchard, and a 4,000 square-foot auditorium equipped with a basketball court and a movie theater.
A permanent staff of seven operates the facility, and an average of 30 youths receive services. Youth is the focus in Elmdale. Recently released prisoners would be the focus for the Kenai facility, Hancock said.
Family reconciliation, community networking and urban renewal are among the Citadel's programs.
Hancock said she chose the Kenai area because of established contacts, the close proximity to the prison and the community's need.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.