Deputy City Manager Robert Barr shares an update with the Assembly Monday evening following Resurrection Lutheran Church’s decision to not host the city’s cold weather emergency shelter this year. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Deputy City Manager Robert Barr shares an update with the Assembly Monday evening following Resurrection Lutheran Church’s decision to not host the city’s cold weather emergency shelter this year. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

City’s struggle to provide a winter homeless shelter continues

Combination of downtown transit center and bus considered as church again rejects hosting shelter.

The city continues to search for solutions for where to host its cold weather emergency shelter after Resurrection Lutheran Church, which in past years has been the location of the shelter, voted on Sunday for the second time not to run the shelter this year.

[Sheltering homeless people this summer is hard — it may get worse come fall]

City and Borough of Juneau Deputy Manager Robert Barr shared the outcome of the vote with the Assembly Monday night.

“The congregation ultimately decided against hosting the warming shelter again this year,” he said.

Without the church, Barr said there aren’t any clear options for where the shelter will be.

“We have been and continue to meet with providers in the community, including the Glory Hall, St. Vincent (de Paul) and the Juneau Community Foundation to come up with an alternative solution,” he said. “We think a downtown solution is necessary for a variety of reasons.”

In an interview with the Empire after the meeting, Barr said the city is considering utilizing a portion of the Downtown Transit Center lobby to shelter people along with repurposing a public transit bus to use as a winter warming shelter, running it idle during the night time for people experiencing homelessness to stay on.

He said the lobby space could fit about 15 people and the bus has 35 seats, which would be the maximum number of patrons that could be accommodated.

In previous years the shelter has typically opened in mid-October — following the closure of the Mill Campground — and welcomes patrons during nights when the temperature in Juneau is below freezing. Last winter it was reported the shelter saw upwards of 70 patrons some nights — far more than what the bus and lobby could hold.

“I don’t think that’s a solution by itself, but 15 is better than zero,” Barr said.

Barr said the city will continue to seek solutions before the campground’s scheduled closing. He said many residents have sent in ideas for spaces that could be used, but he warned that finding heated indoor space with access to plumbing in downtown Juneau is a “rare commodity.”

“Generally speaking it’s all either being used or being renovated, at least everything that I’m coming across,” he said. “So when we’re looking at heated indoor options, pretty much anywhere in downtown Juneau requires displacement at current use.”

Barr said if a building is identified as a solution it would need to be approved by the city Planning Commission prior to its opening. He said the city would need to have a solution ready to go to the commission at its first October meeting in order to have it open following the campground closure.

At the meeting, Assembly member Christine Woll asked if price and inadequate city funding were issues that contributed to the church’s decision.

Barr said the price has not been a sticking point in the discussion from his perspective. Last winter he said the church received about $280,000 to assist in running the shelter “and that’s a price we are willing to pay for the service.”

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651) 528-1807.

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