Juneau supports hotel beds for sick, homeless

Kiefer authorized to spend up to $3,600 in next month on program

Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Social service agencies received support Monday from the city to help homeless people who need a place to recover from the flu.

The Assembly authorized the city manager to spend a limited amount of money to provide hotel-room beds for homeless who are sick with the H1N1 virus.

They voted 6-1 authorizing City Manager Kim Kiefer to spend up to $3,600 in the next month on the program. The agencies had asked for $7,200 for a two-month period.

The flu requires bed rest but the homeless can't do that at the Glory Hole, Executive Director Maria Lovishchuk said, because the 39-bed shelter is not equipped to quarantine them.

The Red Cross is working with local hotels to arrange for the beds. The Glory Hole will provide meals, as well as volunteers to check up on the sick. A doctor's referral is required for people to participate in the program.

At least six homeless people sought treatment for flu symptoms at Bartlett Regional Hospital last week. Two more that Lovishchuk knew of had become ill by Friday.

"They went and camped out," she said.

The H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, has diminished over the past few months in Alaska, but the number of cases is expected to rise as flu season nears, state epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said Monday.

More than one million cases are estimated to have occurred in the United States, and as of Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 7,511 hospitalizations and 477 deaths caused by the virus, including one death in Alaska.

"We don't want to run into a situation that people who are ill are turned away and end up very sick or even dying on the streets," Assembly member Jonathan Anderson said.

The Assembly voted to let Kiefer spend the money from the manager's contingency fund at her discretion. The fund has $35,000 but $10,000 has been set aside for the city's avalanche forecasting program.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford voted against the expenditure. He said a drug testing program for student athletes passed last week by the Juneau School Board would require city support, and he expected a request to be before the board soon.

"It's going to take money, and money that we haven't appropriated yet," Sanford said of the testing program. "We're going to feel more and more burden on us for what we have left in our budget."

The city is facing a $4 million to $5 million budget deficit starting in 2011.

In addition to the emergency funds, the Juneau social service agencies want the Assembly to help figure out a long-term solution to house sick homeless people.

Lovishchuk said the problem is not limited to the H1N1 virus.

"Every month we get a couple of sick people who have nowhere to go," she said. "There needs to be four to five beds available to these people to lay down in."

Kiefer said she expected a proposal by the agencies before her in the next couple of weeks.

Assembly members Johan Dybdahl and Jeff Bush were absent from the meeting.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or by e-mail at kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.

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