I have been reading with great interest the arguments, both pro and con, about The Glory Hole. Some folks don't know the history of this ``homeless shelter/soup kitchen''.
Prior to the formation of the soup kitchen, one would risk tripping over drunks lying on the sidewalks or in ``Wino's Alley.'' In 1981, a small group of ministers from different churches took a walk downtown and decided to start a soup kitchen to help the street people. There had been a couple of deaths around the state from alcoholics freezing to death while inebriated and the ministers didn't want it to happen in Juneau.
The ministers obtained a space on South Franklin to bring the street people out of the cold and give them hot coffee, rolls and soup at noon. But the smartest thing they did was to enlist the help of every church or service organization in town. To this day, the people of Juneau ``own'' the Glory Hole.
From these modest beginnings, what was once a street full of bars, saloons, liquor stores and flophouses grew to become one of the country's ``10 most innovative shelters'' (1995, national award from HUD). Over the years, the dedicated board members have included caring people from many walks of life.
But there is a factor at work which is stronger than all of the people who have worked so hard to keep it going. The Glory Hole belongs to God or ``a higher power'' or anything else you want to call HIM. The Glory Hole is a ministry. Miracles happen daily. People come there for one of two reasons: either they need to learn something or the Glory Hole needs that person to fill a need.
For example, the plumber who had a heart attack on an airplane and wound up at the Glory Hole to recuperate. As he got better, he saw needs which he could fill. Now, the Glory Hole has gas clothes dryers and a gas range because he did all the plumbing as a ``thank you'' gift. Many people, for a variety of reasons, have found they needed a little help at one time or another.
The Glory Hole has helped many people kick alcohol and/or drugs. They network with many of the social service agencies around town. They provide a place for many people with various brain disorders to socialize, feel accepted and validated as a human being and get help with some of their problems. A third of the folks who use the shelter are documented mentally ill. Plus, many elders in the community find three meals a day, respect for their age and help with many of their problems at this facility. Families who are having a hard time, for whatever reason, bring their children for a good evening meal. They know that no one will treat them badly and that their children are safe there. They can also obtain a supplemental food box there, seven days a week.
The shelter has three dormitories, offers showers for anyone who doesn't have running water and has laundry facilities available. The object is that no one needs to stay dirty. Before the Glory Hole offered these services, downtown merchants used to throw street people out of their stores because they stunk. No one gets a job when they stink. And, if one must choose between food and a bath, which costs money, food wins.
Anyone can end up there. I have never known anyone who said, ``I think I'll become poor and go live at the Glory Hole today.'' No one wants or plans to become poor. Everyone wants respect and acceptance.
Thank God for the folks who come and cook, donate time, money, goods, services to the people in need.
The Glory Hole looks like a fine restaurant and many tourists come in, during the summer and are amazed to find they are in ``a soup kitchen''. We should all be proud to have such a warm, caring place in our lovely city.
Ellen Northup is the former executive director of The Glory Hole.