Downtown Juneau is home to many residents and local businesses that care about their neighborhood and the people who come to shop, enjoy the delightful variety of cuisines offered, or have a brew and hotdog at the Triangle Club on the lively corner of Front Street and North Franklin. However, the corner has changed.
Business owners have watched downtown crime rise steadily in the last 10 years. For some this has brought frustration, then anger and for others, disenchantment. Yet, undeterred by this negative tread, businesses and city leadership are actively working to improve safety and preserve the sense of Alaskan generosity that once connected all of us. For example, in October 50 businesses worked actively with the City and Borough of Juneau’s police department ensuring a safe Halloween in the downtown corridor. Business owners welcomed trick-or-treaters while public safety officers walked the beat providing emphasis patrols to immediately respond to incidents that would negatively impact Halloween festivities.
According to Kindred Post owner Christy Namee Eriksen, “Last year  was the first year the businesses downtown coordinated to make Halloween happen for trick-or-treaters, and after such a huge success, they had to do it again this year.” Armed with candy, other treats and knickknacks, businesses like Juneau Drug decorated for Halloween and opened their doors to families. However, Juneau’s most vulnerable population are the most affected by limited and high cost housing, thus creating a public safety concern that exists unchecked when the increased protections are not in place.
Mike Wiley, owner and operator of Ben Franklin Hobby RC and Custom Frame Shop on Front Street, is concerned about keeping local businesses and customers safe year-round.
“Street vagrants are a huge problem for all downtown businesses. Shoplifting, pan-handling and sleeping in the doorways are making customers leery to walk downtown,” Mr. Wiley said. “And what message are we sending to our children when we open five marijuana dispensaries downtown and a front page news article heralds a public servant’s right to smoke marijuana? Parents standing in line at the 20th Century Theatre with their kids watching people purchase pot. Yes, it’s legal, but no, you can’t smoke pot. It’s a gateway drug.” With the drug abuse epidemic in America, unemployment up and despair feeding the problems nationwide, Juneau has become a breeding field for property crime, assault and robbery.
Like many cities in America, Juneau is a caring community that is making inroads with the homeless challenge. The Juneau Coalition on Housing is a partnership of local agencies and non-governmental organizations who serve Juneau’s most vulnerable residents. These organizations provide holistic emergency, transitional and supportive services to clients. They are working together to develop housing solutions, but with Alaska’s multibillion dollar deficit, state funding is limited. With finite resources inclusion and collaboration is a must; a challenge, I believe, the capital city of Alaska is up to.
The Glory Hole, Juneau’s homeless shelter and soup kitchen, helps make a cold winter night tolerable for the many of the city’s homeless, but no alcohol is allowed. According to Paula Ann Solis, a former reporter for the Juneau Empire, “Logan Henkins, 32, battled an addiction that landed him in the hospital three months ago. He found himself without a home, but sought shelter at the Glory Hole. Now, after being taken care of by others, Henkins wants to pay it forward. He has created an exchange program that supplies blankets to others like him on the street. ‘I can’t get my friends off the streets’ Henkins, born and raised in Juneau, said near a pile of donated goods inside the South Franklin shelter. ‘This is an opportunity to go out and give them food and blankets and make warmth and food accessible all the time.’”
As noted above, we are making good progress; but it is not enough. Like Henkins, we should be asking ourselves what more can we do and start, paying forward.
Loretto L. Jones is a lifelong Alaskan and business owner who has lived in Juneau for more than 40 years.