The streets of downtown Juneau looked the same as usual Saturday night, despite the city’s anti-camping ordinance going into effect.
The ordinance, which rules that those sleeping or camping in the doorways of downtown businesses, is to be enforced between midnight and 7 a.m. The doorways were largely empty Saturday night and early Sunday morning.
Juneau Police Department Lt. David Campbell said Monday that there were no incidents during that stretch Sunday morning, that an officer reported no violations when he drove through downtown at 3:30 a.m. Campbell said he doesn’t work nights anymore, and wasn’t sure what to expect this weekend.
“I was under the impression that the camping was occurring every night,” Campbell said Monday via email. “I was pleasantly surprised when the sergeant reported no violations.”
During the winter, downtown doorways were occupied more often, with winds whipping through the streets. Austin Davis, a local butcher who spends many nights on the streets with the homeless, said most people had nowhere to go in the winter and needed a place to get out of the elements.
Now, there are more options for those on the street. Thane Campground, a city-owned area about a mile and a half south of town, was opened Saturday as a place for homeless to go. The campground usually opens around this time every year, and part of the reason for the ordinance going into effect now instead of earlier was for it to coincide with the campground opening.
An hour before sunset Saturday, the campground stood completely empty, save for one can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup slowly heating over a fire that had clearly been left for quite some time. An hour after sunset, the campground was still empty. The soup was still there.
The campground usually fills in when the summer comes, more as a place for people to live than to spend a weekend camping for fun. Davis, with others at Marine Park on Saturday night, scoffed at the idea of the campground providing effective help.
“Thane Campground,” Davis said, “who’s got time to walk an hour out Thane?”
The issues of homelessness and addiction have been hot-button issues in Juneau lately. According to a Point in Time count — a survey where volunteers drive around town and count homeless individuals — run by the Alaska Coalition on Housing this January counted 59 people without shelter. This was an increase from 51 people without shelter from the 2016 study.
A small conglomeration of people gathered in Marine Park on Saturday night. Some were sleeping on the concrete, some were sleeping on the benches. Others sat back in a dark corner of the park, chatting and occasionally passing a bottle around. Further south in the park, near the downtown parking garage, a tent was set up.
The only person sleeping in a doorway on South Franklin Street on Saturday night was escorted away just after 10 p.m., but not by law enforcement. Rainforest Recovery Center EMT Clint Talley drove up to the curb and walked up to the man, who lay in the entryway to Shirt Off My Back, a chain apparel shop.
Rainforest Recovery, which runs both a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol addicts, also operates a small sleep-off center. This sleep-off center houses inebriates who are turned away from shelters such as the Glory Hole that turn away people if they’re intoxicated. At night, a van goes around town and EMTs such as Talley load inebriates into the van and take them away.
The sleep-off center only houses five people at a time, so Talley and his co-workers have to be fairly selective. Talley had the man at Shirt Off My Back blow into a breathalyzer, even as the man insisted multiple times that he was fine. Talley read the meter on the breathalyzer that was over 0.30 percent (more than three times the legal limit).
Talley loaded the man into the van, and the only evidence of the man having been there was a brown paper bag tipped on its side, spilling chocolate chip cookies onto the sidewalk. After he had loaded the man in his van, Talley spoke for a moment about the city’s ordinance.
“I’m not a big fan of the homeless ordinance, personally,” Talley said, “because I think they’re just criminalizing homelessness and a part of the population that can’t afford to pay the fines and don’t really have a lot of options to begin with.”
Through the first weekend of the ordinance being in effect, however, it had not yielded any citations or arrests. Whether it will be at Thane Campground, Marine Park or elsewhere, those on the streets will find places to sleep and live, Davis said.
“They’re not teaching anybody any lessons,” Davis said, “as far as I’m concerned.”
Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2271.