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Assembly presses ahead with plan to keep homeless from sleeping in doorways downtown

Posted: January 10, 2017 - 12:24pm  |  Updated: January 11, 2017 - 12:05am
A homeless man sleeps in the doorway of the Filipino Community Hall on Dec. 21, 2016.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
A homeless man sleeps in the doorway of the Filipino Community Hall on Dec. 21, 2016.

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly is pressing ahead with a plan to keep the city’s homeless from sleeping in businesses’ doorways downtown at night.

In an informal vote Monday night, the Assembly — meeting in a work session —agreed to schedule ordinance 2016-44 for the Jan. 23 Assembly meeting. There, residents will be allowed to comment on the proposal, which would then come up for a vote at a later meeting.

Downtown business owners have repeatedly complained that homeless Juneauites are vandalizing their property and deterring people from shopping downtown.

Speaking Monday, Juneau Police Department Chief Bryce Johnson said he sees the ordinance as a way to force the homeless into services and shelters.

“Our goal is to drive them to services, but we need a tool to be able to do that,” Johnson said.

He said the police department conducted a voluntary outreach program in which officers and social service agencies talked with people sleeping in the doorways of downtown businesses.

Only one person voluntarily agreed to get up and move into a shelter.

“We had all the services lined up, but it was much easier to just lie there and stay,” Johnson said. “I would suggest that giving us a tool to help move people into services is a good thing.”

Without a way to coax people into services, he warned that crime could rise, and thieves will continue to prey upon the homeless.

“I think we need to get a handle on this is my opinion,” he said.

Technically speaking, the ordinance bans camping on private property in a downtown district stretching from Fourth Street to the edge of the Rock Dump district.

If implemented, police would be able to legally order someone sleeping in a doorway to move along. If they refuse, it becomes a more serious crime.

“It would be a failure to follow a lawful order of a police officer,” said city attorney Amy Mead.

Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski asked city officials to “connect the dots” and explain how the homeless will be helped by being forced out of a sheltered location.

The city’s “housing first” shelter has 32 beds but will not be complete until later this year. Other options include opening the city’s Thane Campground year-round.

According to surveys and anecdotes shared Monday evening, many (if not most) of Juneau’s downtown homeless are homeless because of addiction or mental illness that make it impossible to maintain stable employment.

“Homelessness and substance abuse go hand in hand,” said Paula Rohrbacher, who asked the Assembly to create an emergency shelter to help the homeless when conditions warrant.

Rohrbacher and more than a dozen other people signed up to give public testimony about the proposed ordinance during a regular Assembly meeting that followed the work session.

Mandy Cole, chairwoman of the Juneau Commission on Housing and Homelessness, told the Assembly that it shouldn’t expect one ordinance or one shelter to solve every homeless person’s problem because the cause of homelessness is different for each person.

“We’re going to have to keep trying, different things every day,” she said.

Several urged the Assembly to remember compassion.

“Where are they supposed to go?” asked Cynthia Dow. “These are humans here.”

Some homeless aren’t able to go to the Glory Hole because of alcohol, drug problems or mental illness that causes them to act violently around others.

She reminded the Assembly that they shouldn’t just think of the homeless as “homeless.” They’re people with names and stories.

“Do you know any of their names?” she asked.

Mary Bailey is one of Juneau’s homeless residents. She lives at the Glory Hole shelter right now, but she’s had to sleep in a doorway before.

“If you’re off the sidewalk, you’re in the snow,” she told the Assembly. “You’re in the wind.”

“I’m not a vandalist person,” she told the Assembly. “I’m not trying to mess up anyone’s place. I’m just trying to survive.”

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Gary Gibson
Gary Gibson 01/12/17 - 05:39 am
Many Doors are Closed to the Homeless

It is generally interesting to read what politicians have to say about homeless people describing why they are in such a state. It is hard to get a job in Alaska and that does make a real difference. There are probably as many resons why people are homeless with no money as there are reasons why some people are prosperous and loaded. Prosperity is no longer an inevitable condition for average Americans.

I had a Univ. of Alaska honors degree and a Bachelor's too yet found it impossible to get hired by the state to even the lowest position to afford a door and electrical outlet. I have wondered why people believe that if one does all the right, honorable military service, sobriety to the point of abstemiousness etc and can't get anywhere, those with lesser ability should be expected to have better luck.

Juneau does physically concentrate people downtown in a fairly narrow area, and rain does saturate, or people trample when one rests on the sidewalk per se. When the park is open for camping that tends to be quite dangerous. Maybe sleeping under the Gold Creek bridge is the better way for those that cannot use the friendly homeless shelter accomodations.

In Anchorage the year I slept in a tent on the ground without even money to buy propane I believe 11 people died from the cold (2010-2011). I could not find any sort of work and looked quite purposefully...sometimes getting up at 4 a.m. to go stand in line for hours at 0 degrees at the job service trying to get on with a seafood processor. Not even some restaurant to wash dishes existed to hire.

It would be good if Juneau had bus passes for the homeless and perhaps more temporary warming facilities such as some cities have for weather emergencies. Alaska is losing 7500 jobs this year and it is nearly pointless to look for work in Juneau. I was evicted from sleeping the the Treadwell Mining District way up in the forest once...In Anchorage then-mayor Sullivan made it illegal to camp in city public spaces in 2011. Those that are perfectly acceptable human product to big corporate and government may be able to get work in Alaska, and of course some from overseas have good luck too, yet some people find themselves so marginalized that they just fade away with little real chance of actually improving their situation if they were to quit using dope or alcohol as they rightly should.

elton engstrom
elton engstrom 01/13/17 - 07:31 am
There should be more resources available to the homeless

I agree with many of Gary's comments about the homeless. Often times they have no where to go and in some situations no where to even sleep. I really believe there should be more programs available to the homeless not only to get off the street but to provide job opportunities.
The current situation of some of the homeless camping in people's doorways, however, can't be tolerated. Business owners and property owners should be able to get in there doors and shouldn't have to be subject to constant vandalism and other criminal activities that is associated with the crisis downtown.
The assembly should seriously look at moving the glory hole out of downtown to an area where the effects aren't so widely felt by the community. Many people don't even want to go into the downtown core and have to deal with the current crisis. My family owns a building next to the glory hole and we are constantly having deal with a wide range of vandalism and crime that is a direct and indirect result of the glory hole. Don't get me wrong, I support the purpose and mission of the glory hole. I have even given food to the organization. However, I don't think it should be located in the middle of the tourism district in downtown Juneau. No other community, I can think of would tolerate this.

melody millard
melody millard 01/16/17 - 09:29 pm
Help, not hurt

A person who no longer has a home and is demonstrating behaviors associated with serious mental illness needs a compassionate advocate, and this one I will call Anne. An advocate is a source of something that is often lost along the way -hope.
Here is what I envision these people will do together: The person, who I will call John, first needs a ride to see a psychiatrist to be evaluated; he probably does not have a car and if very ill, is not able to find a bus stop, much less know where to find services. This state of confusion can be compared to that of a person having a diabetic crisis. And, to emphasize that, not being able to find a bus stop when in a mental health crisis is not limited to those people who do not have a homes. It could be you and it could happen tomorrow. Unlike people, mental illness doesn't discriminate.
Anne will probably need to be present for John's evaluation, make a follow up appointment, and try to get on a payment plan until benefits are in order. NOTE: We have a severe shortage of mental health professionals in Juneau.
Psychotropic medications can be extremely expensive and can cause some pretty bad side effects. Anne will need to find John a place to stay, encourage him to keep taking his medication even though it makes him sick. Be supportive. Be there. Like a caring family member would do. Like Lt. Kris Sell of the Juneau Police Department would do. She created a program that is now called "the year of kindness." All our officers are actively involved and have accomplished amazing things. Please read the Jan. 16th edition posted on; it is impressive and other organizations in Juneau are following JPD's lead. It is gaining national attention and in this divided nation, we are in desperate need of random acts of kindness. And John needs more than a random act of kindness. He needs a deliberate act of kindness to allow him to be freed from the terror and confusion untreated mental illness can cause. It will give him the opportunity to be the person he is meant to be.
So, JPD has provided us with an excellent example of what a community can look like and act like. John and others like him need advocates not adversaries. He is not safe where he is; people with severe mental illness are over ten times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.

I would ask that CBJ Assembly consider adopting and promoting "the year of kindness" to make life better for all.

Thanks to all of you who are doing the daily random act of kindness. Thank you JPD.

Gary Gibson
Gary Gibson 01/17/17 - 09:48 am
Juneau Should Not Emulate the Soviet Union

I was reading about Sakharov's theory of the Universe in regard to gravity being an emergent aspect to it rather than a primary for-itself. Though he developed the fission bomb he was treated like dirt for not supporting development of the fusion bomb and of course sent to a mental institution. We may learn from the way the former Soviet Union exploited mental institutions as political acceptable ways to dispose of dissidents that therre is a real value in keeping phsychiatry and 'mental illness' treatments as far away from the legal trade and cop shops as possible.

In some societies such as Brazil psychiatry and Freudian analysis are nearly as common as taco vendors; they have been taken out of the professional, quasi-legal arena and developed in an informal, non-prosecutorial anything-you-say-can-and-will-be-held-against-you for employment and freedonm purposes in any sort of way possible context.

Actual material reasons for homelessness exist involving lack of money and the impossibility of being hired in certain political contexts involving the left and the right. That is, only if there is abundant and easy employment and the actual opportunity to buy housing at very affordable costs and someone prefers instead to be homeless should one move toward considering that subjective psychological maladies of the inndividual might have a good probability of being the cause for homelessness.

Juneau has extremely high rental costs, very low rental vacancy, poor houing design, an exclusive state governement monopoly on good jobs except for professionals and is structured more for the benefit of tourists than unemployed locals.

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