It’s been a frustrating few months of searching for funding for the Juneau Housing First project, but supporters of the program left Monday’s City and Borough of Juneau Assembly meeting with smiles on their faces.
After numerous funding options dried up for Housing First, the CBJ Assembly unanimously voted Monday night to bail the project out with a $1.2 million grant. The money allows the project — which aims to provide housing for those with addictions and mental illness — to complete construction and be ready to open in July.
Glory Hole Director Mariya Lovischuk, who is heavily involved with Housing First, smiled as she spoke about the project’s future.
“It feels really good, because now we have to concentrate on operating,” Lovischuk said. “We are very excited to do it. We’re really excited to start moving people in in July.”
The city initially gave the project $1.5 million in 2015. Then, CBJ had loaned Housing First $1.8 million in January 2016, knowing that the loan could turn into a permanent grant if Housing First proved unable to secure those funds elsewhere. In June 2016, the CBJ Finance Department chose to set aside $500,000 of that loan in the budget in case it needed to provide a permanent grant to the project.
Housing First ended up needing $1.2 million of that loan to be turned into a permanent grant. Monday’s ordinance was to appropriate $700,000 in addition to the $500,000 that was set aside last year, amounting to a $1.2 million total grant. The ordinance passed unanimously after Assembly member Debbie White proposed adopting it.
In total, the construction and administration of the Housing First facility is projected to cost $7.6 million. Construction costs are $6.7 million, which includes a health clinic. Housing First has received grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and others.
The completed Housing First facility will be located in Lemon Creek and plans on providing 32 beds targeted specifically for those without housing who are facing addiction or mental health disorders. Juneau’s problems with homelessness and addiction have taken center stage in recent years, with the city looking to prioritize its battle against these issues. City Manager Rorie Watt put together a plan for the future of Juneau, entitled the “Community Wellness Strategy,” which lists Housing First as a key part of the city’s solution to homelessness.
Construction is nearly done and the facility hopes to start filling its beds in July. Lovischuk said they will move in eight people at a time, with 10 days between each move-in. This will allow for the facility to slowly adjust to more and more patrons.
The patrons will be chosen based on a Vulnerability Index study, Lovischuk said. The study is projected to finish in early May, and will reveal which of the homeless individuals in town are the most vulnerable. Similar studies have been done in 2012 and 2015, Lovischuk said.
Doug Harris, Chief Integration Officer with Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, Inc. (JAMHI), was in attendance Monday night. JAMHI is helping construct a clinic at Housing First, and Harris is looking forward to the effect the facility will have on the community.
“We see the benefit that it’s gonna have for the population that is being served through it,” Harris said, “many of which are potential JAMHI clients, but haven’t initiated for whatever reason, so this will provide an opportunity for the proximity to be ideal.”
There has been widespread community support for the program, even though money has been difficult to come by. Lovischuk said studies have shown that a Housing First facility can save a city money by lightening the burden placed on emergency services. A Housing First facility in Juneau could take pressure off the Rainforest Recovery Center and the police, so Lovischuk said it’s been an easy idea to sell.
“I think that one thing about this project is that it enjoys pretty much universal support,” Lovischuk said. “It enjoys the support of local service providers, it enjoys the support of the business community just because of the economic savings that CBJ will receive from this project are enormous.”
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