Glory Hole cuts afternoon hours

Breakfast, dinner to be served, but some will have to find daytime shelter

Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2003

For the last year and a half, John Covington, a homeless man living in Juneau, has frequented the downtown soup kitchen the Glory Hole during the day for a hot meal and some camaraderie.

But beginning next month, he and the others who rely on the facility will have to find a new place for shelter and meals during the day.

Earlier this week, the Glory Hole announced that due to a budget shortfall it will close its doors in the late morning and afternoon.

The downstairs soup kitchen will open for breakfast from 7:30 to 10 a.m. The kitchen will reopen at 4 p.m. and close at 9 p.m. The 38-bed dormitory will open daily at 9 p.m. and close at 8 a.m.

"We hope that by taking this step now we will prevent a complete closure of the facility later in the winter," said Jetta Whittaker, executive director of the Glory Hole, in a prepared statement.

She said the new hours are expected to last until January, unless new funding comes in.

"We're about to get our (Permanent Fund dividends) and if 200 people gave us $100 each, our problem would be solved," Whittaker said.

Until then Covington, 42, said he hopes the city or another social service organization will help fill the budget gap. Covington came to Juneau about a year and a half ago from Springfield, Mo., after spending about six months working at a cannery in Petersburg.

"You know how the weather is here," he said. "If you put people out, where are they going to go?"

Robert Williams, 50, who also attends the daily lunches, said he believes many of the people who don't have access to the Glory Hole will turn to bars and other "hangout places" until the shelter's doors reopen for dinner.

"Some of them will get into trouble because they don't have any place to go," Williams said.

Covington gave a grimmer estimation of the situation.

"If somebody doesn't have money to feed his family, he's going to go steal," he said. "That's the way people are."

Whittaker said a downturn in the economy has affected social services nationwide, leaving institutions like the Glory Hole strapped for cash. The Glory Hole also has thousands of dollars in deferred maintenance costs that need to be addressed, Whittaker said.

She said the water heater at the shelter broke down earlier this month and will cost about $8,000 to replace. The broken water heater also has caused water leakage throughout the building, damaging parts of the ceiling.

The Glory Hole expected to spend about $160,000 this year on operations but revenues at the end of the year are expected to total about $138,000. The shelter will save about $6,000 by closing during the day, Whittaker said.

Norma Walter, financial manager for the Glory Hole, said the shelter has received about $26,000 from local churches, $62,000 from grants and the United Way, $28,000 in individual donations and $22,000 from fund-raisers in the community this year.

"I've done a fair amount of reading that since Sept. 11 there has been a decrease in giving as a national trend," said Glory Hole Board President Larry Rorem.

Rorem said he suspects that nationally televised stories documenting misappropriation of funds by charitable organizations following the terrorist attacks have hurt donations to charities.

He said the Glory Hole will continue to hand out sack lunches in the morning for people to take with them, but it is uncertain what will happen to the approximately 50 people who use the Glory Hole for shelter, camaraderie or as a safe-haven from addiction.

Ellen Northup, former executive director for the Glory Hole from 1990 to 1998, said many will find other places downtown to spend the day.

"A lot of them will go to the library," Northup said. "The ones looking for an excuse will fall off the wagon."

Northup, who still volunteers and works part-time at the Glory Hole, said others could end up spending much of the afternoon at stores downtown or taking perpetual bus rides to escape the cold and rain.

Dan Austin, director of St. Vincent de Paul, an organization that provides assistance to the poor, said charities in the Juneau Homeless Coalition - St. Vincent, the Glory Hole, Gastineau Human Services, the AWARE Shelter and the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health Inc. - are working together to figure out how to address the daytime closure.

"One of the problems is that (St. Vincent de Paul) is out in the Valley, and most of the Glory Hole people are downtown," Austin said.

St. Vincent de Paul already serves about 100 people a day with meals, housing, childcare and other services.

"My suggestion is that if people are thinking about a good place to put a tax-deductible donation, I would recommend the Glory Hole," he said.

The Juneau Alliance for Mental Health Inc. could pick up some of the slack until the Glory Hole resumes regular operating hours, but its Green House facility downtown focuses primarily on those who are considered "chronically mentally ill," according to JAMHI Executive Director Brenda Knapp.

"We know the Glory Hole provides a valuable service," Knapp said. "If the Glory Hole is getting into difficulty, I see that as a community problem. We would assist in any way that is reasonable, but we are a nonprofit, too."

Covington at the Glory Hole was skeptical about turning to a facility like the Green House.

"That's a place for the mentally incompetent," he said, calling it a "for-profit business," despite JAMHI's status a nonprofit organization. "Not everybody here is mentally incompetent. And just because you're homeless doesn't mean you have a drug or alcohol problem."

• Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the Glory Hole at P.O. Box 21997, Juneau, AK, 99801 or dropped off at 247 South Franklin Street. The Glory Hole is seeking monetary donations and donations of lunch items like fruit, sandwich fixings and individual-sized drinks and chips to send with patrons before closing its doors in the morning.

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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