KENAI — The Independent Baptist Church on Oil Well Road in Ninilchik sat with a for-sale sign posted on its exterior for about two years.
Ned and Christina West eventually purchased the church. Now, they plan to split the purchased church in half, lift the halves onto a flatbed truck and haul their new home about 60 miles to Nikiski.
The couple will use the purchased building as their home, as well as to establish a 10-bed homeless shelter for older, single women. They will accomplish this goal, hopefully, within six months, relying on the courtesy of friends and a handful of barters.
Christina, 71, said she could relate to women who are seeking shelter and have nowhere to rest.
Several years ago, she was homeless and living in her van. She ended up at a shelter for women and children, but the experience was less than pleasant, as an older woman, she said.
“It’s a wonderful place for what they do,” she said. “For families, it’s great.
“But it’s not for everyone. There needs to be a place that’s quiet, where (older, single women) can feel safe and secure.”
There is no real cultural significance or personal connection to the church for the West duo. Instead, it was simply “cost effective.” The owner’s original asking price was $15,000, but he dropped the price to $10,000 after some haggling.
The building was bought dirt-cheap. The property in Nikiski where the church will rest was purchased at a Kenai Peninsula Borough auction for $13,800. Roger Burkhardt, of Burkhardt Construction in Ninilchik, agreed to move the church for a trade — three, five-acre parcels of land.
Last summer, a foundation for the church was completed with the help of volunteers, who moseyed over from the Nikiski Senior Center following the sounds of activity. Ned, 72, felled the trees on the property, which is located on Autumn Road, and a Stumpy’s Tree Service employee removed the tree stumps in exchange for some logs.
“We’ve done a lot of bartering,” Christina said.
The couple sold their home in Ninilchik to complete the project. That was two years ago, and after the home was sold, they found themselves on the cusp of homelessness. A winter was spent living in a cheap travel trailer. They almost froze to death twice, Christina said.
A 12-by-16-foot cabin, or shack, that sits on their Nikiski property is currently their home. It has no running water or electricity. These struggles with everyday amenities have solidified Christina’s passion toward helping women in need.
“We don’t have anybody to leave anything to when we die, and we’re still in pretty good health, so we can still get this going before we go on and leave it to other people,” she said. “I think it’s God’s will for us to do it, and we’re working on it.”
She emphasized, however, the shelter will not be a faith-based facility. There will be few requirements — other than the gender and age restriction — and religion will not come into play, she said.
Love, INC. of the Kenai Peninsula, a faith-based non-profit, offers shelter for families in need. Marti Slater, Love, INC. coordinator, said there is little to no support for older, single women on the Peninsula.
“It’s very frustrating to me that there’s such limited help ... so to speak,” Slater said.
The LeeShore Center, another non-profit that offers shelter services and other programs, provides transitional living, but the women it helps are generally victims of domestic violence.
Love, INC.’s Family Hope Center located at the Kenai Merit Inn offers temporary housing for families with children. It was offering some of the rooms to single women but was forced to realign with the program’s original intent due to high demand, Slater said.
“Families with children was our focus from the get-go,” she said. “We kind of got away from that because we just couldn’t stand the thought of somebody freezing outside in the winter time.
“But we’re having to move back, also because of limited resources. You wouldn’t believe how many (homeless) are out there.”
The church will be ready to move in about a month, Burkhardt said. It will require a lot of heavy lifting.
Burkhardt has moved buildings here and Outside in the past. None were as large, and the Ninilchik church is heavier.
Moving the building requires placing additional support beams throughout its two stories. And it’s impossible to move all of the building at once, so Burkhardt will cut the building in half. These precautions will prevent the structure from flexing while traveling down the winding roads of the Sterling and Spur highways.
He also will remove the roof and secure it in the second floor of the church.
To move a building of this size over 60 miles costs about $30,000, he said. Burkhardt is taking a loss on his trade. The parcels of land are undeveloped and need to be cleared before he is able to sell them.
“I’m trying to help them out,” he said.
The wiring and plumbing of the church will remain intact, and with extra effort should not be hard to hook up on the Nikiski property, Christina said.
In the meantime, the couple is constructing high tunnels for gardening on the property. Gardening should produce food for the shelter, she said.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s really starting to come together for us,” she said.