Shelter stays afloat after funding loss

Community fundraising efforts have sustained Sojourner’s Alliance


HARRINA HWANG | The Daily Evergreen

Sojourner’s Alliance Executive Director Steve Bonnar talks about his experiences with running the only homeless shelter on the Palouse.

JONATHAN VILLANUEVA, Evergreen reporter

One of the few transitional housing facilities in Moscow, Sojourner’s Alliance, remains operational despite losing their federal funding and temporarily closing last year.

Executive director of the shelter, Steve Bonnar, said one of the major populations that they have seen over the years are recovering addicts and those in financial issues.

According to the Point-in-Time 2017 statistics for Idaho, there is a total of 92 people who are homeless are in region two, 58 are unsheltered and 34 are sheltered.

Bonnar said that the state of Idaho is broken up into different regions and Moscow falls under region two. He said that the allocations of funds are based on population of people in the general area.

“We are the only shelter in the Palouse,” Bonnar said.

Bonnar said he has seen people from many different backgrounds come through the doors of Sojourner’s.

He remembers last year, a new resident came to the shelter and ask for housing and aid. After moving in, another resident had written a racial slur on their door. Bonnar then said that he kicked out the individual who had written the slur because of the strict rules that are put in place.

“Here [at Sojourner’s Alliance], I don’t assume anything about people,” he said. “It’s the nature of the beast.”

In addition to occasionally dealing with racial issues, in the past, some have threatened the residents’ safety. Over the summer, a domestic violence situation between residents escalated Bonnar was assaulted by a resident. It left him with seven broken ribs and a busted shoulder, he said.

Bonnar said despite the challenges with both funding and safety, he still will continue his work at Sojourners. He also understands that people who are in transitional housing have behaviors that are based on survival instinct.

At the shelter, Bonnar said something they focus on is re-teaching skills and help residents relearn the rules of society.
“There’s a kid that had been in foster care,” he said. “One day their chore had been to clean the men’s bathroom; they took a mop, put it in the toilet and used that to clean the bathtub.”

They staff had to reteach the child how to clean, Bonnar said.

Last May, Sojourner’s Alliance was on the verge of closing down along with eight other facilities in Idaho. He remembered getting a notice from the U.S. Department of Housing and Development 20 days before their last payment.

Bonnar said that he had to inform 16 people and tell them that they were at risk of become homeless again.

“That was the hardest days of my life,” he said.

Through fundraising, Sojourner’s Alliance was able to raise enough money to reopen again earlier this year. He said that in the months that followed, they were able to raise enough money from the community to continue helping many people who live there. Bonnar said, he still has around $75,000 left.

“It was a miracle.” He said.

Thus far, he said, they rely on donations and they are working on with a grant writer to acquire more foundational grants.

One of the biggest campaigns, Avenues for Hope, helps raise money for Sojourner’s Alliance. On the website, the charity has raised $26,565 for the organization.

Avenues of Hope is a campaign that helps transitional housing in Idaho.

Bonnar said that it is our biggest fundraiser and the first year they decided to join, the received $10,000.

“My hope is through the Christmas fundraising and what we have that we have enough money to carry us through into late summer of next year,” he said.