A forum Friday night on the homeless in Juneau, particularly their presence downtown, preached to the converted. No merchants whose concerns about loiterers, fights, noise and litter triggered the meeting attended.
Joan Decker, executive director of the Glory Hole, a homeless shelter and dining hall on South Franklin Street, said some merchants recently asked the Glory Hole to sell its property and move.
But the Glory Hole's board of directors have decided to stay downtown, where its target population is, Decker said.
"If we were to leave, the problem would get worse," Decker said in an interview. The source of alcohol in bars and liquor stores would remain, but the food source would be gone, she said.
Before the Glory Hole opened downtown, South Franklin Street "was not a pretty sight," Mike Miller, a former legislator and former board member of the Glory Hole, told a crowd of social service workers and others concerned about the homeless at the meeting Friday at Northern Light United Church.
"Right now in our romantic vision we think of South Franklin Street as interesting and vintage," Miller said. But the reality was a lot of bars and people using alleys as restrooms, he said.
"And that's changed since the Glory Hole. People don't have to go to bars if they don't want to just to get warm, just to get fellowship. Downtown Juneau is so much better because of the Glory Hole that I don't have words to describe it," Miller said.
Still, at 11:30 a.m. Saturday a woman could be seen crawling on the ground in front of the Glory Hole, and trying to pull herself onto a chair outside its front door.
Some merchants interviewed Saturday said there are occasionally fights and people yelling and screaming on the sidewalks downtown, although they didn't know if it was from clients of the Glory Hole. When that happens they call the police.
But other merchants and salespeople said they hadn't had problems with the homeless and that moving the Glory Hole wouldn't improve downtown.
"The Glory Hole, where would you move it where it would be effective?" said Sheri Beckerman, a salesperson in the Rainsong Gallery on South Franklin who said she has worked downtown since the mid-1970s.
"The homeless aren't going to live in the valley and they're not going to move away," she said.
Decker said the Glory Hole tries to find jobs for its clients. About a third get a job quickly, and another third within a month. But some clients are mentally ill or are dependent on alcohol and drugs.
"They're not evil people. They're not dangerous people. They're people who need help. Without that help, they may die," Decker said.
The addiction of alcoholism still carries a heavy stigma, said Pam Watts, executive director of the state's Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
"You're not seen as a sick person needing to get well. You're seen as a bad person needing to be punished," she said.
Eric Fry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.