Juneau considers establishing winter camp for homeless

JUNEAU — A ban on camping in downtown Juneau goes into effect next month, leaving many homeless people asking where to go.


Alaska Electric Light and Power has offered to let the city lease about an acre to use as a winter camping site for homeless people, KTOO-FM reported.

Many homeless people — in all seasons — already erect makeshift camps on the woods owned by AELP’s sister company, AJT Mining Properties. AJT employees often evict people it finds camping on these lands.

“If we had this time of year a campground that we could direct people to, I think that would make it easier for us to say, ‘Well, you can’t camp here, but you can go over to this other managed campground,’” said Alec Mesdag, lands manager for AELP and its affiliated properties.

Homeless people will be barred from camping downtown on private property after April 15, KTOO reported Thursday.

The city already runs a summertime campground on AELP land, but that location is in an avalanche zone, meaning it has to shut down for the winter.

The proposed winter site has its issues too. It’s an uphill walk from town and there can be heavy snow barring the path. AELP is willing to offer the site to the city on a year-to-year arrangement.

Mesdag says he has been in talks with the city since December.

The city hasn’t decided whether it’s willing to manage a winter campground.

“The question of whether a winter campground is a good idea hasn’t been thoroughly vetted,” said City Manager Rorie Watt. “When I look around the country other places are actually trying to shut down homeless campgrounds.”

The Juneau Assembly is set to consider the winter campsite at a meeting on March 20.

Homeless advocates say doing nothing isn’t an option.

“There will be people who pick up their blanket and move three streets over or to the Marine Park structure,” said Mandy Cole, co-chair of the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness. “And so it’s not ending homelessness in any way — it’s moving it away from that kind of one visible area.”

Cole said the new ordinance will not be enforceable on public property, and that many campers will move from sidewalks into city parks.


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