The City and Borough Assembly Task Force on Homelessness held its second meeting Tuesday, brainstorming numerous options for fighting the rise of homelessness in Alaska’s capital city.
One of the many ideas on the table was considering the long-term role of the Glory Hole. The homeless shelter and soup kitchen resides in the heart of downtown Juneau, but there have been attempts in the past to move it away.
The task force discussed this possibility, looking at the possibility of moving the shelter closer to medical services. Police Chief Bryce Johnson — who is a task member for the time being until he leaves for his new post in Idaho — said the shelter could be in a more suitable location.
“If you were to rebuild the city from scratch,” Johnson said, “you would not put the Glory Hole where it’s at.”
Glory Hole Director (and task force member) Mariya Lovischuk said that an ideal location for the shelter would be somewhere with plenty of parking and on flat land instead of on a hillside. She also said it’s not the time to move, and that there are more pressing issues with the shelter than its location.
“I think there are so many questions other than where it belongs,” Lovischuk said. “I think the money question is a huge question. I think land in Juneau is a huge question. I think there are so many questions that go with that question (of location). Is that really the priority?”
The issue of the shelter’s location is a long-standing one. Past attempts to move the Glory Hole have centered around moving the homeless population away from downtown businesses and tourist areas.
Downtown business owners began a movement in 2001 to move the shelter away from downtown, but the Glory Hole Board of Directors voted to keep it on Franklin Street, saying that if the Glory Hole would leave downtown, the homeless issue would worsen.
Cindy Dau, who is not on the task force but has attended and contributed to both meetings, said she felt that the shelter’s space could be utilized better. She pointed out that Lovischuk and her staff do a good job of filling the space they have, but that if someone looked at the floor plan there could be more room for people in need of shelter.
“I’m not the expert in space usage,” Dau said after the meeting. “There have just got to be different ways that we can get people in there so we don’t have to hear that they’re cold in the winter. That’s what I’m trying to do, is don’t be full in the winter. There’s got to be a way to shelter people.”
More toilets needed
The Glory Hole wasn’t the only major topic discussed Tuesday.
The task force currently includes seven members, including Chair and Assembly member Debbie White, Assembly members Maria Gladziszewski and Norton Gregory, Chief Housing Officer Scott Ciambor, Johnson (who will soon be replaced on the task force by Deputy Chief Ed Mercer), Lovischuk and Polaris House Director Bruce Van Dusen.
The six task force members who were present (Gladziszewski was absent) discussed a variety of other topics, spending a good amount of time talking about increasing access to toilets. As Ciambor pointed out, the United Nations’ suggests one toilet per 20 people in refugee camps. According to a study done this winter, Juneau has 59 unsheltered residents, but there are no 24-hour bathrooms available and currently just one that is free to use after dark.
There’s a public restroom at City Hall, but it closes at night. Another option sprung up a few weeks ago, when Docks and Harbors employees placed a portable toilet on the cruise dock near the downtown public library. With no options overnight, some people began using the vendor booths as bathrooms, leading to an early-morning cleanup process for Docks and Harbors employees.
Docks and Harbors unlocks the new portable toilet in the evening and locks it back up in the morning. Port Director Carl Uchytil said he isn’t sure exactly what time the portable toilet opens and closes, and isn’t sure how long it will be posted there. The task force members agreed on the importance of figuring out a solution to the shortage of toilets downtown, but were unsure on whether to build a permanent facility or obtain more portable toilets for the area.
Whether talking about bathrooms or the Glory Hole, one of the main aims of the task force is to make access to services easier. Ciambor spoke particularly about “low-barrier” access to housing in town, which he said he’s seen in his research of how other cities are handling homelessness. The easier it is for people to get into housing, the easier it is to help them find jobs and get back on their feet.
“It’s not an isolated conversation,” Ciambor said of changes to the Glory Hole. “It’s all the shelters in town, it’s all the transitional housing. The trend across the country is that everything in your homeless system should be low-barrier. Every single unit should be low-barrier.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.