Major changes to assistance for Juneau’s homeless population were the subject of a presentation during Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon.
A trio of speakers discussed ongoing work on the second phase of the Juneau Housing First Collaborative project, as well as efforts to move the downtown homeless shelter and soup kitchen to the Mendenhall Valley.
First up was Bruce Denton, a Housing First and Glory Hall board member, who said he’s often asked if Housing First is going to happen. He said people are surprised to learn a 32-unit facility in Lemon Creek known as “Forget Me Not Manner” opened in 2017.
Housing First offers housing to some of Juneau’s most vulnerable residents.
He shared some of organization’s successes.
“The numbers are quite staggering,” Denton said. “It’s been an extremely successful program and operation.”
He cited a University of Alaska Fairbanks and University of Alaska Southeast study that found Housing First residents had noticeably fewer interactions with law enforcement, medical professionals and emergency responders.
Within six months of the first 32-bed facility opening in 2017, visits to Bartlett Regional Hospital Emergency Room declined by 65 percent, sleep-off center visits fell by 99.4 percent, contacts with JPD fell by 72 percent and transport by Capital City Fire/Rescue fell by 54 percent, according to the study.
Denton said work on the second phase of the Housing First project, which will add another 32 beds, is slightly ahead of schedule because of relatively clear summer skies, and it’s expected to be finished next summer.
Another construction project is a lot further away from happening.
Glory Hall is actively raising money with a goal of $300,000 by Sept. 1 in an effort to secure land. The goal is to move the shelter from downtown Juneau into a newly built building that would be located in the Mendnenhall Valley.
Glory Hall board member Greg Smith said the board voted unanimously to pursue the move since it would help meet the service’s mission.
Glory Hall Executive Director Mariya Lovishchuk said the services Glory Hall offers include outreach, intake assessment, prevention, emergency shelter, meals and more.
The proposed two-floor facility would be larger by area than the three-story facility, Denton said, but it is not intended to accommodate more people.
“The new location isn’t going to have any increased capacity,” Denton said. “It’s going to be a larger building primarily to isolate the sleeping areas.”
He said it would be in a properly zoned area.
“I don’t think we could have found a place that’s more appropriate for out needs,” Denton said.
During a question and answer portion of the meeting, Denton was asked what would happen to the old Glory Hall location if the new one is built.
“The thought was that we would keep the building and lease it, and use that money to subsidize our operations,” Denton said.
However, he said he would be in favor of selling the building and investing that money, and an ultimate course of action remains to be determined.
After the meeting, Denton said a “best-case” timeline for the project is starting construction in spring of 2020 and opening a year later.
Denton said the Glory Hall board is confident that grants will be available to help cover the cost of building a new building, but he did not have a firm number for what the new building may cost.
He said $2 million to $4 million would be a likely range.
“I really blame that largely on the requirements that come with state and federal grants, so my dream is this thing gets built like a church by a bunch of volunteers,” Denton said.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.