'Rough mission' celebrates 20th

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

Facilities for the homeless have come a long way since the 1970s, when Wino Alley was a South Franklin Street fixture.

"Drunks slept there at night because they had no other place to go. It was OK in the summertime, but in the winter some of them died. People thought something should be done," Dave Moe, who moved here in 1976, recalled.

Today, the Glory Hole homeless shelter and dining hall is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the public is invited to a ceremony at 3 p.m., at which founders and original board members will be honored.

Among those angling for a shelter were the Rev. John Tindell of Northern Light United Church; real estate agent Ray Johnson; Phil Tousley; and Moe's wife, Thordis, who worked with the Gastineau Council on Alcohol. In 1979 they formed an informal steering committee.

In 1980, the Rev. Mick Ewing, currently chaplain at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center, opened the Lighthouse coffee house at 4th and Franklin streets as an alternate to bars. The steering committee borrowed the idea of the coffee house and founded the first Glory Hole in the former Occidental Bar, nicknamed Blood Bucket because of its history of fights. It was on South Franklin Street. They served sandwiches, said Moe, first chairman of the board.

"The name was suggested by Milton Hunt, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran. Light coming into a mine is reflected off the gold there. The shelter would be a place that reflected the glory of God," Moe said. "Since Juneau was a mining town, it seemed appropriate."

In the early years, the Glory Hole lacked dormitories. Then in 1982 a shelter was put together at the old Alaska Youth Village at 1800 Glacier Highway, Ewing said.

Subsequently, the steering committee was given the use of a run-down apartment house at 247 South Franklin St.

The Glory Hole was then supported entirely by individual donations. With an average of $3,000 a month in expenses, it sometimes seemed impossible to keep the place afloat, Moe said.

"One day the director, Mike Rocroft, called me to lay hands on the pantry because there was no food. I didn't think it would do any good, but within a day or two the pantry was full," Moe said.

"Another time, somebody donated a freezer, but it was empty. We laid hands on it. Soon it was full. Once had $23 in our checking account with bills due. Then the Coast Guard Women's Association held an art sale and gave us a check for $3,100."

After several of these experiences, his faith in miracles was "completely changed," Moe said.

In 1986, Jesuit volunteer John Egan arrived to cook at the Glory Hole. Fourteen months later, at 23 years old, he became director.

"Every day there was some kind of crisis that had to be addressed, and yet every day had its rewards," Egan said in a telephone interview from Maine. "It was probably the greatest job I will ever have as far as on-the-job experience and on-the-street experiences."

"It was a rough ministry," Ewing noted.

Egan found that the apartment house would have to be demolished and that it sat on unstable pilings on an old tide line. It was a time of frantic fund-raising.

A number of stalwarts have been involved with the Glory Hole for its entire history. Chuck Seslar, for example, has volunteered since 1983 and served on the board since 1984. "It's something that needs to be done, and I have the time to do it," Seslar said matter-of-factly.

"Problem children" homeless, unemployed people who suffer from mental illness as well as substance abuse are in the minority of the Glory Hole's clients. "Most of the people (the Glory Hole serves) are very good people who are down on their luck," Seslar said.

Sandy Coon has cooked and served meals at the Glory Hole since 1980, and served on the board of directors for 10 years.

"I've seen countless folks who needed a fresh start find help through the Glory Hole... (and) food boxes, sack lunches, friendship, brotherly love, weddings, funerals and joys and sorrows shared," Coon said. "It's a warm, dry place out of the weather, a place to be treated with dignity and courtesy. Often people who have stayed come back to help with meals when they get settled into their own lives."

Ellen Northup remembers Wino Alley as a place where you "literally walked over people's bodies at night. It was scary." Northup began volunteering at the Glory Hole in 1982, and was appointed director in 1991.

"I was appalled that we were feeding lunch and dinner only and putting them to bed, which meant people were applying for jobs with nothing in their stomachs," she said.

She began breakfast service and instituted weekly and emergency medical clinics with the help of physician assistant Karl Bausler, Dr. Lindy Jones and nurse practitioner Justine Emerson.

"At the end of the year we were able to prove we saved the Bartlett Regional Hospital emergency room $100,000," Northup said.

She herself can't stay away: "I often feel more religious there than in church; I feel the presence of goodness and mercy and all those good things."

"We try to have an up-beat, can-do atmosphere here," said Joan Decker, executive director for the past three years. "Our emphasis is on turning around in a very short time those people who are able. Usually we can get them hooked into a job, cleaned up, rested, fed and feeling good about themselves in seven days' time."


Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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