With the exception of a yellow handbag, Chellsy Milton brought just the clothes on her back. The outfit included three jackets, on top of which she’d pile seven blankets on a typical night sleeping in doorways downtown, she said.
Milton and her partner Chris King are homeless. They were the first two to show up on the first night the City and Borough of Juneau opened its warming shelter downtown, which is just a sparsely-appointed room with 15 FEMA cots, each with a thin brown blanket on top. Milton and King claimed two cots in the corner and pushed them together.
“It means a lot to be here,” Milton said. “I am just trying not to get sick right now breathing in all that cold air.
“It gets really challenging,” when the temperature drops, King said. “I wear three jackets, always.”
The shelter will be open from now until April every night the temperature dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It could be opened on nights above freezing as well, but that will be up to the discretion of shelter staff, who will have to make the judgment call when the temperature hovers around freezing.
Two attendants, Mandy Cole and Scott Ciambor, are posted in a drafty corridor at the entrance doing intake. The facility has strict rules. Each person using its services has to sign a contract requiring them to stay quiet and abstain from drinking or using drugs on the premise. “Everyone is expected to treat each other with respect,” Cole explained.
People are expected to sleep and do little else. It’s open from 11 p.m.-6:30 a.m. Those who leave can’t come back the same night.
“What you’re seeing is basically what the service is, a sleeping shelter only. Cots, blanket, we do have some emergency water. There are options to use the bathroom if necessary, but pretty much it is just a bare-bones sleeping shelter,” Ciambor said.
Ciambor is the Chief Housing Officer for CBJ, a position created in February of 2016 to help address housing issues. The warming shelter — which CBJ funded in November with a $75,000 commitment — is just a stop-gap measure to keep Juneau’s unsheltered from freezing to death during winter months, he said.
Downtown Juneau has an emergency homeless shelter, the Glory Hole on South Franklin Street, which requires a breathalyzer upon entry and does not allow entry for those with a blood alcohol level above 0.10 percent. Other housing options for the homeless include St. Vincent De Paul’s and the AWARE shelter, both of which have their own entry requirements. Data released in April shows 215 people sleep in emergency shelters and on the streets.
Ciambor and Cole would like to funnel warming shelter visitors to year-round resources. Sheltering people is easy, Cole said, it just requires a place to sleep and some oversight. Getting people the help they need to stay off the streets is much harder. There are many barriers stopping the homeless from finding permanent housing. Many need mental health or substance abuse treatment before they can even consider things like job coaching or housing vouchers.
“It’s so much more complicated than just having a place to sleep tonight. This is just a stop-gap, but at AWARE (Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies) we provide case management, we provide legal services, we provide childcare. We provide all of these things, these moving pieces, to kind of address a wide-range of barriers. Here we are just addressing outside versus inside and a kind of minimal safety standard,” Cole said.
The shelter is still working on ways to get the word out on days they will open, Ciambor said. CBJ will post a public notice at 10 a.m. each day online and will get the message to shelters and service providers. The shelter, located at the Department of Public Safety building across from the state museum, can be accessed through a door on the backside of the building. On days that are hovering just above freezing, Ciambor said they’d likely still open the shelter if they think the weather poses a danger to those sleeping outside.
The shelter reserves the right to refuse entry to anyone, Cole told King and Milton. “But we absolutely are not going to,” she added.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228, firstname.lastname@example.org and @KevinGullufsen on Twitter.