Photo by Laurie Craig
A gate stands at the entrance to the Little Rock Dump about a mile and a half south of downtown, which is being proposed as a campsite for people experiencing homelessness this summer by some business operators near the city’s cold weather emergency shelter, stating there have been problems from people staying there.

Photo by Laurie Craig A gate stands at the entrance to the Little Rock Dump about a mile and a half south of downtown, which is being proposed as a campsite for people experiencing homelessness this summer by some business operators near the city’s cold weather emergency shelter, stating there have been problems from people staying there.

Homeless will be on their own when warming shelter closes, as Assembly ponders campground decision

Deputy city manager: “There will be a period of time where we don’t have a CBJ-sanctioned campground.”

Homeless campers will be on their own when the city’s cold weather emergency shelter closes in mid-April, at least for a short while as city leaders try to “pick the best of the very, very worst” sites for a city-sanctioned campground after serious concerns about all of the alternatives were expressed during a Juneau Assembly meeting Monday night.

Assembly members voted 6-2 to give further study to a proposed ordinance for a site in an industrial and business area about a mile south of downtown. But with the cold weather shelter scheduled to close April 15 and the next Assembly meeting scheduled April 29, that means a gap in providing a location for the homeless is near-certain.

“There will be a period of time where we don’t have a CBJ-sanctioned campground,” Deputy City Manager Robert Barr said after the vote.

The ordinance placing the campsite on a lot at the intersection of Thane Road and Mill Street, next to the city’s cold weather emergency shelter, was drafted for Assembly members by city administrators seeking to relocate the existing Mill Campground. That campsite, located on a nearby hillside, has become increasingly problematic with drug, theft and other illegal activity posing a threat to both people staying there and in neighboring areas, according to city officials.

An overhead image shows an industrial and business area where a campsite for people experiencing homeless is proposed this summer, along with the “Little Rock Dump” area in the lower right corner, which businesses next to the proposed campground are suggesting as an alternate site. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)

An overhead image shows an industrial and business area where a campsite for people experiencing homeless is proposed this summer, along with the “Little Rock Dump” area in the lower right corner, which businesses next to the proposed campground are suggesting as an alternate site. (City and Borough of Juneau photo)

But moving the campground to the lot near the warming shelter was strongly opposed by owners and operators of nearby businesses, who said they have experienced a multitude of problems such as vandalism, waste disposal and theft from people staying at the warming shelter during its first year of operation at the Thane site.

“In 29 years we’ve never had a break-in,” said Robie Janes, general manager of Gastineau Guiding Company. “This past winter we did have a pretty serious break-in and it is very concerning for a lot of our employees this upcoming year. Many of them walk to work, bike to work right by this area, and my biggest concern is the safety of them.”

Janes, along with other business operators in the area, are proposing the campsite be located — at least this year — at the Little Rock Dump several hundred yards further south on Thane Road.

However, Deputy City Manager Robert Barr, in a memo presented to Assembly members at Monday’s meeting, stated the Little Rock Dump presents serious concerns including access via a narrow road shoulder with high-speed traffic, exposure to weather and — as with Mill Campground — being hidden from view and thus subject to more illicit activities.

Concerns expressed by nearby businesses went beyond potential trouble from people staying at the campground. Michael Tripp, principal owner of Timberwolf Ventures which is adjacent to the lot proposed for the campsite, told Assembly members construction work on a year-long expansion project has just started there.

“For this vulnerable population you will, in essence, be putting them directly on a construction site for the entire summer and into next winter,” he said. “And it’s a terrible idea to do that. When you consider the noise from trucks, from concrete demolition, from pneumatic equipment. This is a steel structure, there’s going to be welding, there’s going to be all kinds of stuff going on from seven in the morning until the evening hours.”

Assembly members voted 6-2 to give the ordinance further consideration at a future Committee of the Whole meeting, currently scheduled April 15, although several members said they wanted the city to provide further details on possible impacts and alternatives. Assembly members Wade Bryson and Greg Smith voted no on further consideration of the ordinance, with Smith stating not providing a city-sanctioned option — thus resulting in dispersed camping by people picking their own spots — might have the fewest impacts.

But Mayor Beth Weldon said problematic experiences as an Emergency Medical Technician at the former Thane Campground, open for many years near the Little Rock Dump, convince her the area — and having people find camping sites on their own — are worse than the alternatives.

“As an EMT in the middle of the night, with a partner, we would have to go out to get people and bring them down, just the two of us,” she said. “It was very scary. It was very dark and it was very dangerous. But the fire department can’t say no when they’re called. So I think dispersed camping is not a good answer. So we will probably pick the best of the very, very worst.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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