Juneau’s downtown homeless shelter and soup kitchen is moving to the Mendenhall Valley, and work at the new site could start in the very near future.
The City and Borough of Juneau approved $2.3 million Thursday for the construction of a new Glory Hall facility near the Juneau International Airport. Staff members say preparation work at the site could begin as early as this week.
“I feel great,” said Mariya Lovishchuk, executive director of the Glory Hall. “It’s a huge milestone and it makes this project a reality, there’s no doubt anymore this is going to happen.”
Thursday’s appropriation is the culmination of a years-long effort to move the homeless shelter to the Mendenhall Valley. In 2018 the Glory Hall withdrew its application to move to a city property on Hurlock Avenue and last year stepped up its fundraising for the move to the site near the airport.
Supporters of the campus believe the location near the airport and away from homes will ease concerns about large gatherings of homeless people near downtown businesses. Lovishchuk told the Empire in July the proposed move had received more positive public feedback than she anticipated and said Friday she feels there’s a lot of community support for the move.
Permits to begin grading and utility work could be awarded as early as Monday, according to Bruce Denton, vice president of the Glory Hall Board of Directors. With funding in hand, staff are hoping to see construction begin as soon as possible in order for the shelter to be open next summer.
“We’re hell-bent on building this building through the winter,” Denton said.
The contractor for the building itself, Carver Construction, originally gave an eight-month timeline to complete the project, Denton said, but that was before the coronavirus pandemic and additions were made to the project.
“That’s a tough thing to hold him to,” he said, “but that’s still my goal.”
The grading and utility work were under different contracts, and speaking to the Empire by phone Friday Denton said contractors for those projects hadn’t been chosen.
Social distancing and other health guidelines in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant the Glory Hall’s current location on South Franklin Street downtown can’t house as many people as it typically does. The city had to convert other facilities like the Juneau Arts and Culture Center and Centennial Hall into emergency shelters to accommodate for social distancing.
The move to the Mendenhall Valley is just one part of what some are envisioning as a social services campus where Juneau’s in-need residents can receive a variety of services. An ordinance was introduced at Thursday’s meeting at the request of Mayor Beth Weldon to give $1.1 million to United Human Services for the construction of a Southeast Community Services Center near the future Glory Hall site.
UHS is a group of local nonprofits that work together to provide social services in Juneau. Currently, the various organizations comprising UHS rent their own offices, Joan O’Keefe, executive director of UHS and Southeast Alaska Independent Living, previously told the Empire. Having all those partner organizations under one roof would both save money and provide better access to services.
“A lot of the clients of the Glory Halls and our clients need the same services,” said Dave Ringle, general manager of St. Vincent de Paul Society Diocesan Council of Southeast Alaska. “With the amount of aid we distribute and the people we serve here, in some ways it’ll help what we do here.”
St. Vincent has a facility on Teal Street adjacent to the future Glory Hall site which also provides emergency shelter but food, health and clothing programs as well. In fact, Ringle said the heads of local homeless service organizations had been in contact weekly to discuss the provision of services and make sure services weren’t being duplicated.
Lovishchuk previously told the Empire she hoped construction would start in June or July, and as the weather worsens the need for shelter is only increasing.
“Our highest priority is figuring out a place where people can receive day services,” she said. “It’s pretty devastating as it gets crappier outside, to not have a facility where people can safely eat inside.”
Lovishchuk thanked the Assembly and partner organizations like Sealaska Heritage Institute and Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska for funding the project.
“I’m so happy to be working on something that’s so important to the community and getting so much support from all around,” she said.
With weather outside only getting colder, both Lovishchuk and Denton stressed the desire to see the project completed as soon as possible.
“The Assembly made the right decision and the Board is going to do everything in their power to make them never regret it,” Denton said.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.