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Mental health center closes

Green House on Front Street served 25 to 30 people a day

Posted: Thursday, October 06, 2005

Since the Juneau Alliance for Mental Health closed its drop-in center on Front Street in late September, Willy Boy Denny, a 35-year-old man with severe depression, has spent many hours of his day staring at rain from his apartment at Salmon Creek.

Since 2002, the Green House on Front Street had been a place where mentally ill people could take their medication, receive group counseling, have free lunch and hang out. It served about 25 to 30 people a day.

"The Green House is a clubhouse where we can go and meet other people who are bipolar and schizophrenic," said Denny. "We are not alone there."

Pat Murphy, administrator of Juneau Alliance for Mental Health, said the organization didn't want to shut down the Green House but had to because it is facing a $220,000 budget shortage.

"We have had no increase of grant money for 12 years," Murphy said. "We are providing the same level of services with $400,000 less and seven staff (members) less than what we had four years ago."

Murphy said closing the Green House saves JAMHI $4,400 in rent and $4,000 in staff costs a month. The organization serves about 475 people a month.

"If we had continued to keep that service at that location, we would have to eliminate some of our psychiatric services, medication and therapies," Murphy said. "All community mental health centers is the nation are facing the same problem because of funding cuts."

Jetta Whittaker, executive director of the Glory Hole homeless shelter, said she worries that some people might skip their medication or have no place to go downtown because of the Green House's closure.

"Some people who go to the Green House don't feel comfortable coming to the Glory Hole because they may have anxiety disorder and don't feel comfortable around a lot of people," Whittaker said.

Whittaker said since mid-September, she has seen an increase of people have lunch at the Glory Hole.

"We usually served three dozens for lunch. Now we routinely have four or five dozens for lunch," Whittaker said.

Whittaker said some of the Glory Hole's new clients used to go to the Green House but unlike many Glory Hole regulars, these people don't hang out at the shelter in the afternoon.

Murphy said despite the closure of the Green House, patients can still pick up their medication at four locations - two at Salmon Creek, one at Lemon Creek and the other at the Front Street Clinic.

Murphy said people can go to Polaris House near Costco to socialize with people who have mental illness and recover from substance abuse.

After a new six-bed group home opens in late October on JAMHI's property at Salmon Creek, the organization would resume all the services previously provided at the Green House at the new location, Murphy said.

Kathi Petersen, who has been a resident of JAMHI's program for four years, said she is glad that JAMHI moved the Green House moved away from downtown.

"Some people don't like changes, but I don't want to go downtown," said Petersen, who has been wrestling with her bipolar disorder. "It's a slippery place for drugs and alcohol. I won't be as tempted to use drugs and alcohol in our new place."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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