Scattered debris remains on a tent platform at the former Mill Campground on March 28, where people experiencing homelessness stayed during recent summers. Officials decided not to open the campground there this summer due to a high amount of illegal activity last year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Scattered debris remains on a tent platform at the former Mill Campground on March 28, where people experiencing homelessness stayed during recent summers. Officials decided not to open the campground there this summer due to a high amount of illegal activity last year. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Lack of homeless campground means more people are on the streets, Assembly members told

Ordinance authorizing a campground approved Monday night, but where to put it remains elusive.

There’s a noticeable increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness on Juneau’s streets a month after a winter shelter closed with no officially designated campground for them to go to, Juneau Assembly members were told Monday night.

“I see more people in the streets than we’ve had in the last two or three years by not having a campground this summer,” said Brian Buchman, publisher of The Homeless Changed street newspaper in Juneau for the past four years.

The Assembly unanimously approved an ordinance at their Monday meeting authorizing an officially designated homeless campground if an acceptable site can be found — except none has been found after months of effort.

“Has anybody in the community come forward with any potential options that we could consider for another campground?” Assembly member Paul Kelly asked at one point during the meeting.

“At this time, no,” Deputy City Manager Robert Barr replied.

[Juneau’s homeless head outdoors with no official place to camp as warming shelter closes for season]

People were staying at the Mill Campground on a hillside south of the Goldbelt Tram during the past few years. But the past year saw a rampant increase in illegal activity such as drug use, assaults and other crimes that spread to neighboring areas beyond the campground.

Karen Perkins, the pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church, advocates for a low-barrier shelter for people experiencing homelessness during a Juneau Assembly meeting Monday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Karen Perkins, the pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church, advocates for a low-barrier shelter for people experiencing homelessness during a Juneau Assembly meeting Monday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

As a result, when the city’s cold weather emergency shelter closed for the season on the morning of April 16 the people staying there were forced into an official policy of “dispersed camping” where they would have to find camping places on their own.

Buchman said that while there have been problems at the Mill Campground, trying to resolve them with more outreach by entities such as the Glory Hall should be considered while continuing to allow use of the site, “even if it’s just for this last summer and only this last summer.”

“This is very much an essential public facility until we’re able to find something else,” he said. “Creating this campground that summer will give them that until the winter shelter next winter, which will give them another year.”

Greg Smith asked Buchman if he knew of any local organizations that are allowing people experiencing homelessness to camp on their property. Buchman said he isn’t aware of any at present.

“I know the Glory Hall originally had a minor idea a few years ago when they opened to maybe allow a few selected tents in their area, but now it’s really just turned into a community garden,” he said.

The resolution passed by the Assembly will allow officials to move quickly — and skip certain bureaucratic requirements since they’ve already been pre-approved — if an acceptable campsite is located.

Karen Perkins, the pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church, which operated an emergency cold weather shelter at its location for two years before it was moved to a city-owned Thane warehouse during the past year, said she favors the resolution “because the last thing I would want is for people to be getting arrested because they’re homeless.” But she said there has to be a solution beyond “kicking the can down the road.”

“The only solution to homelessness and the long-term expense of those people who are not able to fit appropriately into any of the resources that we currently have is a low-barrier shelter,” she said. “Juneau does not have a low-barrier shelter. And consequently we have a number of people who are the most vulnerable, have the highest number of associated challenges, and have no way to get there and have no way to stay safe until they get there.”

Furthermore, such a facility isn’t something that can be hastily done “by saying ‘Oh, we’re in an emergency. We need to do this thing again of stuffing people into a warehouse,’” Perkins said.

“When we say a central public facility that means a trash disposal,” she said. “That means human waste disposal. That means safe access and the ability to consume food safely, and to be free from a lot of the crime that’s experienced by people. And it takes planning.”

The Assembly did take a step toward providing a long-term solution by unanimously approving a $2 million request by Gastineau Human Services Corp. to help fund a 51-unit housing project for people “with very low incomes, are in recovery from substance use disorders and/or experiencing mental illness.” The nonprofit says the general fund allocation will help secure other funds for the $11.5 million project.

Several officials working with people struggling with addiction and other problems testified in favor of the project. But Buchman said he has one big concern about those in need right now.

“I was a little disappointed to find out the new 51-unit permanent supportive housing may not be opening until 2026,” he said. “If we could push that any way, possibly sooner into 2025, then we may have an avenue here to get a lot of these people who need it more of the housing.”

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

More in News

The Norwegian Sun in port on Oct. 25, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for t​​he week of May 11

Here’s what to expect this week.

Members of the Thunder Mountain High School culinary arts team prepare their three-course meal during the National ProStart Invitational in Baltimore on April 26-28. (Photo by Rebecca Giedosh-Ruge)
TMHS culinary arts team serves a meal of kings at national competition

Five students who won state competition bring Alaskan crab and salmon to “Top Chef”-style event.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 15, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, listens to discussion on the Senate floor on Wednesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
A look at some of the bills that failed to pass the Alaska Legislature this year

Parts of a long-term plan to bring state revenue and expenses into line again failed to advance.

Rep. Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, stares at a pile stack of budget amendments on Tuesday. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska lawmakers expand food stamp program with goal of preventing hunger, application backlogs

More Alaskans will be able to access food stamps following lawmakers’ vote… Continue reading

Nathan Jackson (left) and John Hagen accept awards at the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President’s Awards banquet. (Courtesy photo)
Haines artists get belated recognition for iconic Tlingit and Haida logo

Nathan Jackson and John Hagen created the design that has been on tribal materials since the ‘70s.

Dori Thompson pours hooligan into a heating tank on May 2. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)
Hooligan oil cooked at culture camp ‘it’s pure magic’

Two-day process of extracting oil from fish remains the same as thousands of years ago.

Shorebirds forage on July 17, 2019, along the edge of Cook Inlet by the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage. The Alaska Legislature has passed a bill that will enable carbon storage in reservoirs deep below Cook Inlet. The carbon-storage bill include numerous other provisions aimed at improving energy supplies and deliverability in Cook Inlet and elsewhere. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska Legislature passes carbon-storage bill with additional energy provisions

The Alaska Legislature has passed a bill that combines carbon storage, new… Continue reading

Most Read