Thanking Joan Decker

Empire editorial

Posted: Monday, January 28, 2002

Joan Decker's resignation this month from the director's position at the Glory Hole reminds us of the day-in, day-out hard work that some people put in to make Juneau a better place for all of us.

Decker's job at the downtown homeless shelter and kitchen is more like a calling. She worked six or seven days a week, often 10 to 12 hours a day, and was on call all the time.

But it's not just the amount of time that distinguishes this kind of work. It's the caring the minute-by-minute patience with people who are needy, or desperate, or who suffer emotional or mental illness. Decker said the work is gratifying. But the people who most benefit from it aren't always thankful.

That's one reason it's necessary for the whole community to thank Decker and others like her.

The Glory Hole isn't popular with everyone. Some want the shelter to move out of downtown, believing that it attracts people who beg on the street, or are drunk in public or fight in public. Although the Glory Hole doesn't allow drunken people on its premises, some of its clients surely are guilty of those public misbehaviors.

But longtime residents say downtown's alcohol-related problems were much worse before the Glory Hole, and a downtown core that has many bars is likely to attract people who drink. Advocates for the homeless are concerned that a remotely located shelter would discourage people from using its services.

Unless society is willing to provide treatment for every mentally ill person, and a living wage for every worker, and somehow prevent every type of unexpected misfortune, there has to be a place of last resort and people who staff it.

About a year ago, Decker contemplated in the Empire what Juneau would be like without the Glory Hole: "I believe there would be many sad and desperate people haunting doorways, alleys, deserted buildings, parking lots, under bridges and on hillsides without basic necessities for survival.

"I believe there would be many people walking the streets hungry and cold with nowhere to go, and there would be many people dying each winter from exposure to the weather. Closing the Glory Hole will not make these people disappear nor the problems go away."

Decker, a college graduate, came to Juneau en route to see the northern lights. But she stayed to look for a job, saw her savings dwindle and ended up living at the Glory Hole. She began to volunteer at the shelter, which led to a part-time job there, and about Thanksgiving 1998 she became the director.

We hope she's seen the northern lights in Juneau.

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