Group plans homeless event for Monday

Posted: Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's difficult to determine how many people are homeless in Juneau on any given night, but the figure appears to have grown over the past year, according to members of the Juneau Homeless Coalition.

"It's a substantial problem," Chairwoman Gail Tharpe-Lucero said.

The annual "Point-in-Time Count" will be held Monday to help determine how many homeless people there are in Juneau. This year the count will be held in conjunction with the first-ever Project Homeless Connect, a day-long event to help connect people experiencing homelessness with services. It will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday at Centennial Hall.

Tharpe-Lucero said it's always difficult to record accurate numbers of how many people are homeless.

"A lot of people, even if they are homeless, they don't want people to know they are homeless because of the stigma attached to it," she said.

The event will include 54 different groups that will provide a variety of services such as employment, housing, legal, medical, mental health and substance abuse services.

"So this was an idea of how to get people who needed services connected with the services they need, and at the same time be able to count so the numbers are more accurate," Tharpe-Lucero said.

The count is important because the figures are used to determine how much funding will be provided to local service providers, she said.

"What we're trying to do is increase the accuracy of the count," Tharpe-Lucero said.

Medical services will include vaccinations for H1N1 flu and Hepatitis B. Other "perks" include haircuts, foot care and massages.

Each homeless person that is counted will also be given a gift and will each be eligible for a drawing for larger giveaway.

"There are many, many people involved with this," said Allen Hulett, Juneau Homeless Coalition event committee chairman.

Both Tharpe-Lucero and Hulett say homelessness in Juneau is on the rise.

"The issue is growing," Hulett said. "Last year's numbers were as a good a job as we could do, but I think they were low."

Tharpe-Lucero, who runs the Front Street Clinic that provides medical services for the homeless, said the demands for essential services have been growing.

"I can tell you that in less than a year's time, my clinic has seen at least 100 new people register for services," she said. "... Our clinic strictly serves those who are experiencing homelessness," she said.

According to a 2006 statewide survey, nearly 3,500 Alaskans are homeless on any given night. Of those people, families with children make up 45 percent, survivors of domestic violence make up 15 percent, 14 percent have mental illness, nine percent are veterans, 24 percent have chronic substance abuse problems, and 16 percent are chronically homeless, according to the survey.

Hulett said a lack of affordable housing is another major factor. Juneau is the least affordable city in Alaska, according to the 2009 Alaska Economic Trends by the Juneau Economic Development Council. It takes 2.1 wage earners to afford an average home, according to the report.

There is also a high population of homeless youth in the community, Tharpe-Lucero said, though it's also a difficult number to pinpoint.

"If you're a teenager and you're homeless, there's a stigma attached," she said. "Even if some of your friends know, it's not something that you really want to advertise."

The Project Homeless Connect is not expected to solve the homeless issue in the community, but hopefully will alleviate some of the problems associated with it, organizers said.

"The issue isn't going away," Hulett said.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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