The former Public Safety Building on Whittier Street is the top choice for a warming center which could open Nov. 15 from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The former Public Safety Building on Whittier Street is the top choice for a warming center which could open Nov. 15 from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Assembly approves funding for warming center

On Monday night, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly unanimously voted to fund a winter warming center, which aims to be a warm place for up to 25 people to sleep this winter when the temperature sinks.

The city will work with other emergency shelter providers to staff and establish the warming center, and CBJ Housing Coordinator Scott Ciambor estimated at a September Assembly meeting that this would cost about $75,000. At this Monday’s meeting, the Assembly agreed to provide that funding.

This money would cover staffing, liability and rental costs. CBJ Finance Director Bob Bartholomew said at the September meeting that there was money in tobacco tax revenue to fund the project. He estimated that there was about $200,000 available in that fund to dedicate to the warming center. The Juneau Community Foundation has also been accepting donations for the warming center, and had already received $4,000 by Oct. 24.

The goal is to open the warming center Nov. 15 and keep it open until April 2018, according to Monday’s meeting agenda. The Public Safety Building on Whittier Street is the city’s top choice for the center, as City Manager Rorie Watt explained at the Oct. 23 Committee of the Whole meeting.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust owns the building, and Watt said officials from the trust have been in favor of the city using a portion of the building. The only other organization in the building is the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension.

The building is empty during the warming center’s hours of operation, which are expected to be 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. That set it apart from the downtown transit center, which was another top option for the center. The transit center opens at 7 a.m., which is when the warming center’s hours end, so there would be that bit of overlap each day.

This March, the Salvation Army offered its facility for people to sleep after the closure of the Bergmann Hotel. Ciambor said in September that city staff talked with Salvation Army leaders this summer about doing it again, but that there was a change in leadership going on for the local chapter and the interim staff members were hesitant to make any major commitments.

Instituting a warming center was one of the recommendations of the Assembly Task Force on Homelessness, though the task force and the Assembly members are aware that the warming center is merely a “Band-Aid,” as Ciambor put it in September.

The top long-term priority, according to the task force’s recommendations, is a concept called scattered-site housing. This approach would work with local social services and landlords to get people off the streets and into housing throughout town. According to the task force’s research, funding 10 of these units would cost about $185,000 during the first year.

At the Oct. 23 Committee of the Whole meeting, the Assembly agreed unanimously to look at scattered-site housing in the future. The Assembly members agreed that the time to do that would be after the city fills its open Housing and Homeless Services Coordinator position. This person would coordinate local services to better use their resources to address the rise in homelessness in Juneau.

Juneau has the highest rate of homelessness in the state, as a Point in Time Count earlier this year found 215 people were sleeping either on the street or in shelters.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com.


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