In any community, preventing or ending homelessness is a complicated and multifaceted concern. Each problem requires its own solution, and none of this can happen overnight. But there are some solutions that are basic and far-reaching in helping to find an answer to many of these problems.
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Every community needs to look at low-income housing, affordable housing, transportation and employment as a part of these solutions. There are many agencies and services addressing different aspects of this. Some can only offer interim or one-time help. Their abilities are finite. Others need government action for the solutions, and we all know how slow government can be. And some are in the unique position to be the springboard for everyone to work from. This will take a concerted and deliberate effort by everyone.
One area that will help alleviate this problem is an effective and reliable public transportation system. Right now, Juneau is experiencing a growth spurt that will last for years. Employers are begging for qualified workers in every field. People are coming from the lower 48 because of the opportunities here. But none of this will work if people can't get to their homes or jobs conveniently, and when they need to. Because of the high cost of maintaining a car, more and more people want to or must rely on the public transportation system. Capital Transit is antiquated at best, and because of this, pressure will only become worse in the future.
People who are qualified to work for Costco, Home Depot and many other businesses in the Juneau area cannot get to these businesses to work or shop because the public transportation is too far away to walk. What about the elderly that live in Smith Hall? What about the walk from the Mount Roberts Tramway area to the bus stop at the other side of downtown? During bad weather, it is almost impossible to walk on the sidewalks or the streets because of the way the snow is plowed for even a short distance. Who should be asked to walk more than a mile to get to work or shop in this climate?
And what about the people who are qualified but have mobility concerns? If bus stops were more conveniently located they would be paying to use this system. People who are working and shopping would be paying taxes and this would reduce the support the federal and state governments gives them. It is a "win-win" situation.
The public would support this and in many of these areas even be willing to walk a block or two to do so, but they can't, because there is no adequate public transportation into the area. It would be nice just to go there to "window shop" or visit friends but they can't! What about the Back Loop area? Capital Transit gets numerous complaints daily about missed connections and overcrowding, especially when you are coming from Mendenhall Valley to the downtown area, no matter what time of the day it is, and need to transfer to the Douglas bus. Even the bus drivers acknowledge that this is a problem. So what do the powers that be do? They reduce the services. That will fix the problems. It just made the problem worse! It is public transportation, you know!
Capital Transit needs to react effectively and expediently and change their route and scheduling to work for what the public and businesses need. Not just give it lip service as they have done in the past. The last time they paid to have someone look at their system was more than 10 years ago. Many of the problems they found still exist today. If they would listen to what the public needs and not to the accountants, we would have a first-rate public transit system, not just a barely adequate one. Having a good, reliable and usable transit system will not eliminate homelessness but it would go a long way in helping to support the others to alleviate or at least put a large dent in solving some of these problem.
Oh yes, and we wouldn't be competing as much for a seat with the tourists, who add a lot to our economy.
Build it and they will come.
Stan K. Marston is a Douglas resident.
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