An effort is underway to relocate Juneau’s homeless shelter and soup kitchen from downtown to the Mendenhall Valley.
Executive Director for Glory Hall Mariya Lovishchuk and its board members have voiced gung-ho enthusiasm for the project, which requires Glory Hall to come up with $300,000 by Sept. 1 in order to secure a potential site near Juneau International Airport.
Glory Hall has been in its present location since 1994, but Lovishchuk is adamant the shelter needs more space. The new project would allow for a construction of a new, two-story building.
“It’s really undignified,” Lovishchuk said of the current housing situation for those who stay overnight in the shelter. “We’re not a summer camp, we’re providing shelter to our most vulnerable adults.”
During a tour of the facilities on Tuesday, Lovishchuk pointed out bunk beds on the third-floor. They line the perimeters of the three rooms referred to as “dorms.” Currently, the women’s dorm houses 11 women and offers one bathroom. The other rooms are slightly less crowded but not spacious.
The bunk beds offer a challenge to patrons with physical disabilities, Lovishchuk said. That is compounded by the overnight rooms’ third-floor locations and a lack of an elevator.
“One of the primary motivations is to make the shelter accessible,” Lovishchuk said. “There is no way to accomplish that in this shelter without losing bed space.”
Critics of the potential relocation have suggested that the city and shelter wants to move the shelter in order to make downtown’s homeless population less visible for tourists in the summer months.
Lovishchuk — who has been with the shelter for more than a decade — said that is not part of the decision process and moving the shelter has been discussed by board members for at least 10 years. Instead, she said improving conditions for patrons is at the heart of the matter.
“We really want to focus on providing a therapeutic environment,” Lovishchuk said.
In interviews this week, Glory Hall patrons weren’t uniformly for or against the move when discussing the idea with the Empire. They offered opinions that ranged from positive to negative with many falling somewhere in between.
“It would hurt,” said one patron, who declined to be identified, during the lunch hour Tuesday at the Glory Hall. “Right now, I can come down here and have a meal or whatever.”
He said that would be more difficult if it were relocated, as the Mendenhall Valley is not in walking distance from downtown.
Others who talked to the Empire said the move doesn’t strike them as particularly good or bad.
“This isn’t really going to impact me too much,” said a woman, who declined to be identified in an interview during breakfast Wednesday at the Glory Hall. “I myself have a bus pass, and some people who stay at Housing First, they also have bus passes, but it’s going to be a change.”
Two other patrons, who were present for breakfast at the Glory Hall Wednesday morning, said they look at the possible move as a neutral development. However, they said people have gotten used to coming to the Glory Hall’s current South Franklin Street location. A change may cause confusion, they said, and they expect missed buses to be a concern.
Lovishchuk said if the move does happen, Glory Hall will continue to operate a shuttle.
Some patrons were enthusiastic about the idea, and even those critical of it were pleased the New Glory Hall Concept Design calls for as many as 40 standalone beds in cubbies — small, personal spaces cordoned off from a larger room — that would provide more privacy and storage.
“The facility is supposed to be bigger,” said patron Keoki Tafaoialii. “I definitely think that’d be a positive thing.”
Tafaoialii also said moving to the valley may help fellow patrons focus on a program rather than diversions downtown.
A patron who goes by “Critter” said he’d gladly welcome a move to the valley.
“You get to experience the mountains and the sea, all in the length of the football field,” he said.
Critter said the proposed new Glory Hall’s proximity to the Juneau Job Center, big box stores and Auke Bay means employment may be easier to find, too.
“I think it’s going to help a whole lot of people out,” he said.
Why pursue this now?
This isn’t the first time a move has been discussed.
Last year, the shelter and soup kitchen applied to move to a former City and Borough of Juneau property on Hurlock Avenue near the airport before withdrawing its application following objections from Hurlock Avenue residents.
Lovishchuk said in an interview the move is again being pursued since the new site is less residential than the one on Hurlock and Housing First Collaborative — which offers housing to Juneau’s most vulnerable residents — secured funding.
“That’s really why now,” Lovishchuk said.
More than half of the money Glory Hall would need for the proposed move has already been raised, Lovishchuk said.
“It’s moving right along, but we really need everyone’s help,” she said.
She would not say who owns the land on which a new Glory Hall would be built.
The City and Borough of Juneau Assessor’s Database lists St. Vincent De Paul Society as the owner of the parcel that’s identified as the proposed site of the building in the New Glory Hall Concept Design. Its value is $670,800, according to the assessor’s database.
While there’s a $300,000 up-front cost, Lovishchuk said she hopes the move would lead to more financial stability.
Since the Glory Hall owns its current location outright, Lovishchuk said vacating the South Franklin location could turn the building into a revenue stream. Also, leaving it in favor of a two-story building would likely mean less staff would be required.
“I really do think in light of the governor’s vetoes, this really allows the Glory Hall to provide the services we provide into the future,” Lovishchuk said.
Actually building a new Glory Hall would likely require less public fundraising than acquiring the land, Lovishchuk said. That’s because the project would be eligible for grants that could offset the cost.
“You cannot apply for any capital grant without having site control,” Lovishchuk said.
She said the new Glory Hall is envisioned as part of a supportive campus since it would have proximity to St. Vincent De Paul Society’s Community Navigators, and negotiations are ongoing with Southeast Alaska Independent Living and United Human Services of Southeast Alaska Independent Living to create a nearby presence.
“We’ve never had the opportunity to really transform the social services delivery system in Juneau,” Lovishchuk said. “I think it’s like a perfect storm of good things — and bad things with the governor’s vetoes.”
About those vetoes
While Glory Hall patrons were aware of the proposed move, the biggest concern they shared is the looming prospect of reduced services while the state’s budget is worked out.
“A lot of people here are focusing on what’s going on short term,” Tafaoialii said of other patrons. “Monday is, I keep calling it, D-Day.”
That’s the day Glory Hall is set to reduce its hours of operation in response to more than $400 million in budget vetoes announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in late June that would eliminate about 20 percent of Glory Hall’s budget.
While those vetoes were largely undone by House Bill 2001, which was approved by two-thirds of the Legislature in late July, the bill is now being considered by the governor, who could veto its contents.
As it stood Wednesday, the plan is for Glory Hall to stop serving lunch and breakfast and close from 7 a.m.-2 p.m. starting Aug. 12.
Lovishchuk said in light of uncertainty about whether the governor will veto items in the bill, the hope is that reducing services during the summer can help stretch Glory Hall’s dollars.
“If we do this now, then when it’s cold in the winter, we can do the day room again,” Lovishchuk said.
If Glory Hall does receive full state funding, Lovishchuk said full service could resume within a week.
“That would be on the long end,” she said.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.