Many of city's homeless invisible

Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2005

If the number of homeless people is on the rise, why don't Juneau residents see more of them in the gutters downtown, a member of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce recently asked Jodi Kilcup, executive director of United Way of Southeast Alaska.

Kilcup's answer was simple: Many of the homeless are hidden.

The homeless range from young people couch surfing at friends' homes to single parents staying in temporary units, Kilcup said. According to the Juneau School District, 169 homeless children were enrolled in the 2004-2005 school year.

The United Way and about 20 other organizations in the Juneau Homeless Coalition spent several months assembling a wish list of related measures for city officials to approve.

"We're trying to communicate to the public on what the coalition knows about the homeless and what the community can do about it," Kilcup said.

Juneau activists want to go beyond the soup lines and speak out at city housing planning meetings to get more affordable homes built.

Coalition representatives presented their eight-page outline to the Lands and Resources Committee on Monday and won a favorable response.

Assembly member Bob Doll said several of the proposals could be approved in the near future, while more complicated ones would get a serious look for possible action.

Coalition's wish list

Actions the Juneau Homeless Coalition would like the city to implement over the next five years:

• Create a liaison between the city and the Juneau Homeless Coalition.

• Provide transportation assistance to the homeless.

• Develop a program in which developers would contribute $10,000 to a trust fund for every $1 million spent on conventional housing.

• Make city property available to developers for low-income housing.

• Donate at least one lot per year, zoned for high-density housing, for low-income housing projects to be built by charitable groups.

• Over five years, build 300 units of low-income permanent housing, 50 units of transitional housing for homeless youth and 40 units ofsupported housing for chronically homeless.

"There are lots of dimensions of this problem that we do not want to grow," Doll said.

Many suggestions are aimed at housing developers. The plan asks for incentives for home builders to donate money and land to creating affordable housing.

Doll said those ideas are similar to city plans already in motion to vote on "cottage-home" ordinances next year that would require developers to build these complexes, which have freestanding houses but are run like a condominium association.

If these plans are incorporated, the coalition says it would meet its goal to have 300 units of low-income housing, 50 units of transitional homes for youths and 40 units of supported housing for high-risk, chronically homeless tenants who have failed in other housing settings.

The coalition is asking for a city liaison to look into the feasibility of cost-saving measures for affordable housing, such as property tax exemptions, waivers of city permit fees, discounted utilities, and reassigning city resources, staff and equipment to support the developing properties.

Doll said the Assembly needs to know if the liaison should be a full-time city employee or someone else before it makes a decision.

The plan also asks the Assembly to subsidize transportation costs for the homeless so they can travel to job interviews, receive medical care and find housing.

Kilcup said one of the hardest problems to fix is providing homeless people with jobs paying livable wages.

According to the coalition's figures, the average studio apartment rent in Juneau is $648 and to earn that plus other basic living expenses, one needs a job that pays $12.79. The average two-bedroom apartment unit goes for $1,053 and a resident would need to make $19.71 per hour to pay the rent. Alaska's minimum wage is $7.15 an hour.

The coalition's presentation, entitled "A Roof Over Every Head in Juneau," cites several reasons why people are homeless in Juneau. Some are afflicted by addictions to drugs and alcohol or have physical or mental disabilities; others are women fleeing homes with domestic violence. The high cost of housing and medical care also was noted.

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