A cold rain fell on the land at the mouth of Gold Creek, near the Coast Guard facility on Egan Drive, also known as the Juneau subport, on Friday. Tents, tarps and makeshift shacks, tucked between the alder and willow trees, formed a line stretching away from the road.
About 10 to 12 people currently call this spot, owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, their home.
In the next two weeks, however, those people will have to find another place to sleep.
The Trust Authority is clearing the area out because it intends on leasing part of the property in question and is preparing the land for that purpose, according to a Friday email from City and Borough of Juneau spokesperson Lisa Phu.
On Tuesday, the homeless will be given a two-week notice to vacate. The city will start enforcing trespassing laws on Sept. 5.
For the past two and a half months, Angela Edwards and Edward Heeckt have lived in a tent at the end of the line of campers. They’ve tried to clean up the area a bit, and trash bags bursting with beer cans surround their tent. They and their dog Cody (a Husky-German Shepherd mix) used to live in a van out near the Thane Campground, but they couldn’t sleep next to each other in that arrangement so they moved to the Trust Authority land.
Heeckt works at Super Bear IGA, so he was hopeful that he’ll land on his feet after moving out of this area, but was worried about how his new neighbors will do.
“A lot of people that are camping here don’t even have jobs to where they can pay for rent,” Heeckt said. “At least I have a job, you know?”
Phu said the city is “encouraging” those at the subport to use other locations for shelter, such as The Glory Hole homeless shelter downtown, the Thane Campground (which closes in the winter time), AWARE (Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies) and the Juneau Housing First Collaborative, which is opening in September.
Moving is not so easy for those at the campground, however. The Thane Campground, located a mile or so from the heart of downtown where the homeless population tends to congregate, is seasonal and will be closing in the coming months. Homeless people have pointed out in the past that that campground is too far outside of town to be a practical living area. That issue arose about six months ago, when the city passed an ordinance banning people from sleeping in business entryways. The city tried instead to direct the homeless population to Thane. Police began enforcing trespassing of the downtown entryways on April 15, resulting in many moving to the Gold Creek subport now in question.
Similarly, the Glory Hole has a policy prohibiting inebriates from entering (patrons have to have a blood alcohol level at or below 0.10 percent), so staying there is not an option for all. AWARE only provides shelter for women, not men. The Housing First Collaborative will only be accepting the 32 most vulnerable homeless people in all of Juneau, whom have already been identified.
Juneau’s homeless population has been growing in recent years, and data released in a report called Point in Time Count in April shows that at least 215 people are sleeping on the street and in Juneau’s shelter. For every 1,000 Juneau residents, 6.6 people are homeless, making it the city with the highest per-capita amount of homelessness in the state.
The Trust Authority, which raises money for Alaska’s mental health services, currently has housing coordinators in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and is in the process of reviewing a grant application from CBJ to create a similar position in Juneau. CBJ has been working with the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness on the grant application.
On Friday afternoon, many of the tents and shacks stood empty while other folks dozed and stayed out of the rain. Two boots stuck out of one tent, wedged against the chain-link fence that marks the edge of the property. Eugene Graham, who goes by “The Traveler,” opened the flap of his tent, stood a stick up to prop up his tarp and sat on a small plastic stool outside the place he’s called home for eight months.
Graham wasn’t overly concerned with the prospect of having to move in the next couple weeks, as he’s used to packing up and moving. He moved to Juneau just a year ago, saying that he took the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Juneau hoping to settle in and pan for gold.
“I’m no rookie and I’m damn sure not a beginner,” Graham said. “I’m a hardcore, seasoned veteran homeless man for 37 years.”
At the end of the line of tents, Edwards and Heeckt expressed that they understood where the Trust Authority was coming from, as the land does belong to the organization. They’re just hoping for a little extra time.
“It’s already starting to get cold,” Edwards said. “I think at least a decent month would be nice, because, shoot.”
Edwards trailed off, her voice lost in the rain falling on the tarp, the bottles and the trash bags that will be gone in two weeks.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at email@example.com.