Bar association tries to tackle homelessness issue

Posted: Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Juneau Bar Association learned some of the less fortunate facts of the city on Friday, as two representatives of the Juneau Homeless Coalition gave their concerns on the numbers they've seen and informed the lawyers of current developments to combat the problem.

Glory Hole executive director Mariya Lovishchuk and AWARE district service manger Mandy O'Neal Cole explained the demographics involving the homeless are increasing and numbers are rising, something many of the lawyers agreed with. One even said she heard Juneau "is known as a place for homeless."

They said the problem affects those not commonly thought of as being homeless, such as families and people with jobs. They said a number of factors, such as unemployment and affordable housing, prevent them from settling down.

"The homeless problem in Juneau is real and it's not going anywhere," said Lovishchuk. "It is really important to understand how diverse the homeless population is. There are veterans. Women trying to get their lives together. There are children, including over 30 homeless students at Yakoose. There are people out of work, people with medical conditions, mental health issues, just down on their luck."

She gave other examples and said a lot of homelessness occurs because of cultural issues and when people travel to Juneau, get stuck in a rut, and cannot afford to leave. She said when that happens they have too few options to turn to.

"It takes people a lot of people to get through the day. A lot of the homeless folks do not, for whatever reason, have a good support structure of family and friends," she said. "Everyone in the community can help. We can all be a part of the support and family structure."

The speakers shed light on developments in their own organizations to offer such help. Lovishchuk updated the audience on the Glory Hole's garden project, which more than 30 of the clients have helped build, as well as plans for a new roof.

She said the Glory Hole is also working with MRV Architects on the predevelopment of a project that could, if feasible, turn out to be a 16-unit affordable housing development.

Cole said AWARE has also been successful. She said it provided 5,585 nights of shelter during the last fiscal year, which ended in June 2010.

AWARE is also working on an extended shelter called the Extended Stay Housing Project, which will be next to AWARE's main building. She described it as "an immediate step between emergency shelter and permanent housing" for women escaping domestic and sexual abuse.

She said the project has received $1 million from the state budget and they are seeking additional funding.

"We've participated in the Foraker Predevelopment Program for this extension," she said "We've done some predevelopment in lining up sources and thinking about codes and conditions and how it will fit an unmet need."

Cole said the Juneau Homeless Coalition has also been working with the Juneau Economic Development Council and the City and Affordable Housing Commission to establish a trust to help fund affordable housing project. She said the city is taking more of an interest in the homeless problem than it has in the past, and it's needed now more than ever.

"I'm really happy to be part of Homeless Coalition and CBJ is utilizing the coalition in order to get a better handle on the homeless situation. We're happy to partner with them," Cole said. "The coalition is very happy with the CBJ response."

She gave last year's H1N1 flu scare as an example, saying the city's cooperation on the H1N1 issue helped advance the coalition agenda by working with social service providers to make sure funding was available so that homeless people who contracted the flu had somewhere to go.

"It was a monster problem we all felt connected to," she said.

One of the attorneys, Joe Geldhof, agreed the city and borough should help but may, in fact, be hindering itself in that regard.

Geldhof said city planning, engineering and operating departments are located in residential apartment complexes that prevent people from being able to occupy them. He suggested the city could further help the homeless problem by moving such departments to make more room.

"These people are working hard, but I seriously question if CBJ is seriously committed to addressing increased housing when each and every day dozens of bureaucrats are sitting in Marine View taking up valuable habitation space," he said. "It's time for CBJ to move the bureaucrats out of there and free up living space for humans."

He also suggested that the city could help by working with the owners of the 20th Century Theatre downtown to renovate the upstairs apartments and make them available for habitation.

Cole said those at JEDC have described the housing problem as a sort of puzzle where pieces are in the wrong places. She gave examples of those that can afford to buy homes are renting, which prevents those that need space from getting it.

"What is boils down to is we have more homeless people than we should," said Cole.

"The problem is here because it's so diverse. They're all united by the fact that they have no home and a home is so hard to find in Juneau," Lovishchuk added.

Both said their organizations are always open to help and donations. Lovishchuk said the approaching holiday food drive is in need of help, as there may not be enough food boxes available.

Cole said things like the Housing Trust Fund only exist because of community support.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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