Women in Safe Homes Executive Director Agnes Moran, center, celebrates after cutting a ribbon at the grand opening of the group’s new shelter at 623 Gateway Court. WISH plans to ask the state for funding to upgrade its prior shelter, which now houses other programs. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Ketchikan advocates are asking the state to invest some of its pandemic relief dollars to upgrade a former domestic violence shelter.

Women In Safe Homes, known as WISH, plans to apply for as much as $850,000 in grants from a $4 million pool of federal CARES Act funding given to the state.

The organization’s executive director, Agnes Moran, approached Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly on Monday (April 4) to sign on as a partner. She says there’s a need amidst a spike in reported cases of domestic violence.

“Since 2020, before the COVID environment, we’ve seen a 20% increase in people seeking our services. And in response to that increase, we went out and we very much targeted needs in the community. And we brought in several large grants which brought in … a lot of positions,” Moran said.

WISH has added outpatient family counseling and parenting classes, legal services, and housing assistance over the past two years, she said. And there are already nearly two dozen families using the programs housed in the First Avenue building that served as WISH’s shelter until it moved into its new shelter on Gateway Court.

But Moran says the former shelter is roughly 100 years old and needs work.

“If you’ve ever been in that building, it’s not really structured to support a business environment,” Moran said. “It’s a rabbit warren.”

Moran was at the assembly meeting to ask the borough to partner with WISH. It received a similar grant in partnership with Ketchikan’s separate city government to outfit a former youth jail as a state-of-the-art shelter, which opened last year.

Moran says comparable office spaces would cost at least $10,000 a month to rent or more than $1 million to buy.

Assembly member Jaimie Palmer said she believed the project would be an asset for the community.

“I see the value of this immensely and bringing these programs there and having space to host the children or the counselors and everything you’re trying to do, I think, is wonderful,” she said.

She’s also a former WISH employee, managing the shelter, but has since cut her formal ties to the Ketchikan nonprofit.

The assembly is scheduled to consider formally supporting the project at its next meeting on April 18 before the April 29 deadline to apply for the grant funding.