People sit outside the Juneau Arts & Culture Center on Tuesday, Sept. 15. The JACC is poised to serve as an emergency warming shelter through the first quarter of next year. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

People sit outside the Juneau Arts & Culture Center on Tuesday, Sept. 15. The JACC is poised to serve as an emergency warming shelter through the first quarter of next year. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

City decides to keep emergency warming shelter where it is

Location extended to mid-April 2021.

The Juneau Arts and Culture Center will continue to provide a home for Juneau’s warming shelter, run by the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole considered other options downtown including the Bill Ray Center and a warehouse, among others. However, Assembly members ultimately settled not purchasing a new building and sticking with the building already proven capable of hosting 70 clients.

“The fact that we’re gonna be there for the next eight months at least has given us some certainty,” said Dave Ringle, St. Vincent de Paul Juneau’s general manager, in a phone interview. “I’m comfortable with the services we’re offering between 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.”

With the warming shelter stabilized at the JACC, SVDP is able to set up longer contracts and consider improving parts of infrastructure, Ringle said, like lockers for client’s possessions and other changes to improve safety and quality of life. But while the JACC is an adequate shelter during the evening hours, Ringle said, the days are another matter.

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“I feel very fortunate that we were able to move the warming shelter into the JACC on a week’s notice,” Ringle said. “The needs have not changed. The need to provide some place for people to go during the day when they have nowhere else to go is going to become much more critical in one more month.”

City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s Committee of the Whole voted that the Juneau Arts and Culture Center will remain Juneau’s designated warming shelter until April 15, 2021 in a meeting Sept. 14, 2020. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s Committee of the Whole voted that the Juneau Arts and Culture Center will remain Juneau’s designated warming shelter until April 15, 2021 in a meeting Sept. 14, 2020. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Nevertheless, Ringle said, he hoped that the future would hold more permanent solutions for housing for people experiencing homelessness. The current situation is daunting, Ringle said. Dipping temperatures and other factors, such as harassment of residents of the Thane campground by bears, are pushing more people to the shelter, Ringle said.

“We have a much better idea of the needs of warming shelter clients than we did two and three years ago,” Ringle said, as a data management system has helped assist collecting that information. “The Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness would like to have a plan in place to get more people in housing rather than shelter.”

Programs to help residents experiencing homelessness into more permanent housing, such as Housing First, which just opened its second phase housing, are hampered by COVID increasing the difficulty of obtaining necessary paperwork, Ringle said.

“Getting a social security card in COVID times is a lot harder than in normal times,” Ringle said. “The people in the shelter are barely hanging on in the best of times. It’s a tough situation.”

There are roughly 60 living spaces available between the first and second phases, Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt said during a phone interview, with no current plans to construct more.

“From the city’s perspective, it’s always a question of the unsheltered population — is it growing? Is it not growing?” Watt said. “Everyone on the Assembly got on board to do something to help.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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