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Index: Juneau's chronic inebriates rather vulnerable

Posted: April 3, 2012 - 12:04am

Last week, volunteers with the Juneau Homeless Coalition traversed the city in the early morning hours to survey the homeless population living on the streets for a vulnerability index.

Their findings: 74 percent of that population is deemed vulnerable to dying early on the streets.

Kiel Renick, the new outreach coordinator for the Glory Hole, has been tasked with researching data for the Juneau Homeless Coalition and coordinating a project like this. He shared the early information with the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s Human Resources Committee on Monday. The data collected last week for the index is striking compared to elsewhere in the state, like Anchorage.

The index uses a survey developed by Jim O’Connell, of Harvard University, that takes medical conditions and lifestyle habits into consideration.

Renick said that research has found people living with homelessness have a life expectancy 20 years shorter than housed neighbors.

“In speaking with some of the leaders of the Homeless Coalition, we spoke to 75-80 percent of the (chronic inebriate homeless) population,” Renick said. “This project is looking at one demographic of the homeless community. We’re targeting specifically the people who are the most in need.”

Renick said evaluation of the data collected is still in the preliminary stages, but what they’ve learned so far is pretty telling.

“Of the 47 individuals surveyed, 35 individuals were deemed vulnerable,” Renick said. “There is a certain catalog of health ailments and patterns that made them vulnerable for early death on the streets. In Anchorage’s index, they had 45 percent. We have quite a vulnerable population.”

Renick said of those surveyed, the average time they’ve spent living on the street is 10 years — 8.7 years for those deemed vulnerable. Other data discovered:

• 28 percent experience some form of limited mobility.

• 49 percent have experienced a brain injury or head trauma.

• 23 percent have been to the emergency room at least three times in the past three months.

• 55 percent experience or have a history of mental illness.

• 89 percent experience or have a history of alcohol or substance abuse.

• 32 percent are veterans.

• 62 percent have been victims of violence since becoming homeless.

• 55 percent are Alaska Native, 32 percent Caucasian, 6 percent African American, and 2 percent each Native American, Pacific Islander or mixed race. Of those deemed vulnerable, 60 percent is Alaska Native and 26 percent Caucasian.

“Respondents were overwhelmingly from Juneau,” Renick said. “They were either born here, went to school here or worked here. They have obvious previous ties to Juneau before becoming homeless. ... Juneau’s homeless community is highly vulnerable. It’s narrower (than Anchorage) in that we don’t have as many people perhaps living unsheltered, but the level of vulnerability is deeper. In regards to the chronic issue, it is very difficult to get off the streets in Juneau once a person has reached the stage we’re talking about here. What we are doing as a community and what they are doing as individuals is not working.”

Renick also talked about how the registry week worked.

Members of the community — various public and private organizations — had 35 volunteers go out several mornings between 3 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. to survey people living out on the streets, trails, parks, under bridges and elsewhere.

Renick said this is part of the 100,000 Homes campaign the Juneau Homeless Coalition agreed to go through with.

“It is a nationwide effort to house 100,000 individuals by 2014,” Renick said.

Renick said registry week is the way surveys get filled out and evaluated both the vulnerable and those who aren’t experiencing vulnerability.

“On Monday night we had a three-hour training,” he said. “We practiced going over our roles, learned things from health and safety issues, how to gently wake someone up.”

On Tuesday the nine teams began going out and meeting with those they found out on the streets, bringing breakfast foods, hygienic products, socks and other items if people wanted them.

“We would go out for three hours and have a debrief,” Renick said. “Basically I’d like to say the outreach focus had four real areas. We tried to stress compassionate connection with people. This isn’t necessarily a community that has a lot of interaction with people like ourselves. Second, was to share outreach items and to listen. Third was to cover our entire region — Juneau is a big place. ... Finally, completion of surveys. It was very successful. There were a few people who clearly did not want to be woken up. ... All of the actions carried out were positive. Some involved an exchange of food, coffee or other items. Some just involved talking. We had people coming in and asking to do surveys since our three days out there.”

Renick said this doesn’t mean the entire outdoor homeless population was surveyed — it’s estimated that 75-80 percent were surveyed. Renick said some could have been missed because they found temporary lodging over the days the surveys were done or the surveyors simply may not have crossed paths with the remainder.

Looking to the future, the coalition will use the information to work on housing.

“The registry is a confidential resource that will be used to demonstrate the urgent need for housing within the vulnerable demographic of our community, and to serve as a guide for immediate housing efforts and long term project development,” Renick wrote in information he also gave the committee.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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