Soup kitchen becomes sign of the times

The Glory Hole's reduced hours reflect the budget shortfalls of nonprofit groups around town

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2003

The Glory Hole, downtown Juneau's homeless shelter, has many reasons why it will be closed from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the rest of the year.

But to the shelter's clients, the ones who now spend their days looking for a place to warm up and get a bite to eat, the reasons don't matter. What matters is that one of the main warm places for homeless people in town is unavailable.

"It's hard to survive here in the streets, especially with the cold weather," said one homeless man who goes by Scotty. "The only hangout we have now really is the library ... And sometimes we go to Centennial Hall for a while and warm up."

Scotty and several others were at Marine Park around noon Thursday, seeking shelter from the wind near the open doors of a van from the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Jesuit volunteer Sebastian Lilienthal hands out sandwiches and soup from the van every day at noon and has been since the shelter reduced its hours at the beginning of this month.

"I do it to make sure they're all fed, and also just to raise some public awareness about the Glory Hole," Lilienthal said.

He and the other eight volunteers in Juneau with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps - a Catholic program that organizes year-long, full-time volunteer opportunities for college graduates - made the sandwiches at their group home in Douglas when he first started delivering the lunches. Now the sandwiches are made by the sandwich ministry at St. Paul's Catholic Church, and the soup is made in the kitchen at the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

The Glory Hole likely will re-open with its regular hours on Nov. 1, said Jetta Whittaker, the shelter's executive director. A $10,000 donation from the city, combined with individual donations that have been rolling in since the shelter announced the closure, will allow the shelter to "scrape by" for the rest of the year.

"Basically for every $50 we receive, that's one hour sooner than Nov. 1 that we can open," Whittaker said.

She is optimistic that the shelter will not have to reduce its hours again next year.

The Juneau Homeless Coalition, made up of the Glory Hole, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the AWARE shelter, has applied as a group for some federal funding, Whittaker said.

"We're optimistic," she said. "We won't get as much as we had in the past, but at least we'll get something."

The Glory Hole, partially funded by the United Way, is not alone in its financial woes, said Dawn Miller, executive director of United Way of Southeast Alaska.

"A lot of (nonprofit agencies) are barely getting by," Miller said. "I came to United Way from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and last year I supervised a staff of six people doing drug and alcohol prevention work ... This year they're down to one person in the department with two volunteers.

"I think it's going to be disastrous to the community if we can't find any funding or volunteer services to supplement the cuts."

Because the United Way fund-raising campaign this year did not raise as much as anticipated, the umbrella organization has had to cut its funding to member agencies. Those cuts - combined with a shortage of federal and state funding, as well as decreased grant giving by national philanthropic foundations - have caused many local charities to cut services, Miller said.

The result of the reduced services means more people are on the street, so the Glory Hole's woes affect even more people than usual, Miller said.

"At a time when it's most crucial, they're having to cut back," she said.

Robert Kueker, who was sipping soup from the St. Vincent van Thursday, can attest to the real affects of the cuts.

"It's getting worse all the time," said Kueker. "This is at least my one meal. After this, I hustle what I can on the street."

The United Way has launched its annual fundraising drive and is hoping the nationwide trend in reduced individual giving during the economic recession will turn around this year, Miller said.

"We need to really buckle down and have folks take a responsibility for their community," she said. "In Southeast we really take care of our own. I think now more than ever we need to make sure that we're doing that."

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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