Annual event provides options for city’s homeless population

• As annual event provides services to homeless, city official hopes 2018 sees drop in homelessness • Capital city had highest concentration of homeless in state in 2017

Thanks to staff from Front Street Community Health Center, Heather Lee was experiencing a rare moment of luxury.


Lee, also known by her married name Heather Walden, was getting a pedicure Wednesday at the seventh annual Project Homeless Connect at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. The event is meant to provide services to those who are homeless or on the verge of homelessness, and Lee has gone to it for the past four years.

“I really need the programs,” Lee, 48, said. “It helps keep me alive. I wouldn’t make it without Front Street. I wouldn’t make it without AWARE. I wouldn’t have made it without the Glory Hole.”

[SLIDESHOW: Project Homeless Connect]

Those organizations were all there Wednesday, along with more than 30 other community services. City and Borough of Juneau Housing Coordinator Scott Ciambor said that in recent years, more than 200 people have attended the event and he expected a similar turnout this year. Attendees were able to get haircuts, dental care, assistance with housing, IDs and more.

The event also helps the city get an idea of how many people are homeless in town. Every year around this time, cities across the country participate in a Point in Time Count, where employees from the city and community organizations manually count how many people are homeless, in shelters or in transitional housing.

Last year, the count revealed that 215 people were in one of those three situations, giving Juneau the highest rate of homelessness of any city in Alaska.

Ciambor hopes to see that number drop this year, especially the count that 59 people were out on the street. The final count won’t be released until the spring.

One of the main factors giving Ciambor hope this year is the implementation of the Housing First Collaborative Project, which provides housing for 32 of Juneau’s most vulnerable residents. Those residents will not count in the Point in Time Count this year, Ciambor explained earlier this month.

Lee currently lives at Housing First, which opened its doors in September. Many of the residents have been out on the street for years, like her, and some are chronic inebriates in need of medical care.

“It’s been a little crazy but it’s calmed down,” Lee said of living at Housing First, “because you know, the people have some addictions and some trauma, and some are sick.”

People from all over the spectrum of homelessness were at the event, and the response was mostly positive. William Coates, who lives on the street, said he’s been to these events before and hasn’t seen the results he’s wanted.

“After today,” Coates said, “it’ll be business as usual.”

Others were more optimistic. Richard D. Scott stood nearby, eating from a bowl of blueberries and blackberries after meeting with employees from multiple housing services. Scott has been at the Glory Hole for “a while,” as he put it, not sure of exactly how long it’s been. Scott expressed hope that he would be able to find a place soon.

Some attendees were there as recent success stories.

There was 68-year-old Mable Lee, who just recently moved into an apartment after 18 months of bouncing between the Glory Hole shelter, St. Vincent de Paul and AWARE. AWARE was able to get her into an apartment, where she currently has a bed, chairs and a television. She was there Wednesday more for the free food than anything else, she said.

When reflecting on how it felt to move into her apartment on Dec. 1, Mable’s face lit up.

“You wouldn’t believe it, after 18 months,” she said. “Oh my god. AWARE worked with me, they got me into a place. It was awesome.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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