Nancy Barnes drums and sings a blessing with other members of the Yees Ku.oo Dance Group during the official groundbreaking ceremony of the Housing First Collaborative Project on Allen Court in Lemon Creek on Monday. The 32-unit facility is targeted to serve the most vulnerable homeless and provide on-site medical and mental health services.

Nancy Barnes drums and sings a blessing with other members of the Yees Ku.oo Dance Group during the official groundbreaking ceremony of the Housing First Collaborative Project on Allen Court in Lemon Creek on Monday. The 32-unit facility is targeted to serve the most vulnerable homeless and provide on-site medical and mental health services.

Breaking ground, building homes

An estimated 40 people live on Juneau’s streets in a state of vulnerable homelessness, often the critical point before their untimely deaths. Construction on a plot of land Monday could be a sign of better things to come for them.

The Juneau Housing First project broke ground on Allen Court in Lemon Creek on Monday with a cheering crowd of more than 100 people — city officials and those experiencing homelessness — looking on.

Plans to build permanent housing for Juneau’s chronically homeless population has been in the works for six years. Speakers at Monday’s ceremony highlighted the importance of different groups coming together for an issue that affects everyone.

“It isn’t just a Native issue, (that’s) what we all believe,” Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority President and CEO Ricardo Worl said. “It’s a community issue.”

[Falling in between the cracks: Survey finds hidden, vulnerable homeless population.]

Housing Authority members have worked alongside Glory Hole homeless shelter directors, City and Borough of Juneau officials and Juneau’s Homeless Coalition to build the 32-unit complex now underway that will shelter people, even if they have not rejected alcohol addiction or drug addiction.

Leaders behind the project have said it’s critical people receive the essentials — a roof over their heads and food on their tables — before they can build better futures for themselves. Worl said this effort to improve the lives of the most impoverished is a symbol of the state’s commitment to community.

“The people who are most vulnerable, they didn’t choose this lifestyle,” Worl said. “And yet here we are, the capital of Alaska, the capital of one of the most wealthiest states in the union, and how we treat the people who need the most. … This is that symbol.”

Scott Ciambor, the chair of the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, said after six years most people in the community have some “skin in the game,” investing their time at city meetings and supporting city financing to move the project forward. CBJ Assembly members have approved upwards of $1.5 million for the project, more than 20 percent of the building’s total estimated cost. That funding served as a building block to secure more than $6.8 million from other grantors.

[CBJ Finance gives Housing First another advance.]

In the end, the economic scales will lean in the city’s favor, Ciambor assured the crowd. Secure housing for Juneau’s most vulnerable should mean less use of emergency medical services and fewer jail stays.

“We know that a lot of our chronic homeless folks in town are using jails as places to stay because they don’t want to stay on the street any longer,” Ciambor said.

Monday’s ceremony also included a blessing song and dance by the Yees Ku.oo dance group and, of course, the requisite photo of people posing in hard hats to commemorate the occasion.

Missing from the day’s agenda was a speech by Glory Hole Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk, who was named by every speaker as a pivotal driving force behind the project’s success. Lovishchuk has often appeared as the face of Housing First in front of Assembly members and in the grant writing process.

[Housing First project moving forward.]

On Monday, away from the spotlight, she dismissed any talks about her own role and instead continued the theme of partnerships, thanking Sealaska Heritage Institute Executive Director Dr. Rosita Worl for connections she helped project planners create early on that paved the way for lasting partnerships.

“As many people as we thanked, there are as many we forgot to mention,” Lovishchuk said. “It takes an entire community.”

Lovishchuk said she’s looking forward to attending the next big celebration on Allen Court in Lemon Creek: move-in day early next year for 32 people into their new homes.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

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Juneau’s homeless helping homeless with blanket exchange

Hawaii church to use igloos, manufactured in Juneau, to house homeless

Tourists use Ketchikan homeless shelter to grab free grub

 

Ricard Worl, CEO of the Tlingit and Haida Regional Housing Authority, speaks to attendees to the groundbreaking ceremony for the Housing First Collaborative Project on Monday. The housing authority donated the land for the 32-unit project to serve Juneau's homeless.

Ricard Worl, CEO of the Tlingit and Haida Regional Housing Authority, speaks to attendees to the groundbreaking ceremony for the Housing First Collaborative Project on Monday. The housing authority donated the land for the 32-unit project to serve Juneau’s homeless.

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