Rows of tour buses are parked Thursday next to a city-owned warehouse, at left, a portion of which is scheduled to open as a winter warming shelter starting Friday night. Some businesses managers and employees in the area say people experiencing homelessness have been found sleeping on busses and engaging in other disruptive activity, which is prompting an increase in security and other precautions in preparation for the shelter’s opening. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rows of tour buses are parked Thursday next to a city-owned warehouse, at left, a portion of which is scheduled to open as a winter warming shelter starting Friday night. Some businesses managers and employees in the area say people experiencing homelessness have been found sleeping on busses and engaging in other disruptive activity, which is prompting an increase in security and other precautions in preparation for the shelter’s opening. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Security and other impacts of winter warming shelter on nearby businesses raise concerns

Resident near Mill Campground says illegal activity surged, worries about same as shelter opens.

Brett Hutchinson says illegal activity involving dozens of people going to and from Mill Campground across his property daily this summer was highly problematic, and he’s worried people experiencing homelessness will cause similar problems going to the new winter warming shelter near the tourism business his wife manages.

Hutchinson, who owns property at the south end of Gastineau Street where it turns into a path many people were using to access the campsite several hundred yards away, said Wednesday he hasn’t had any significant problems the past two years with such people and can sympathize with the plight many are experiencing. But he said a proliferation of illegal activities by campground occupants — and people parked in vehicles or otherwise on Gastineau interacting with campers — occurred this summer prior to the campground’s closing on Monday.

“This is not a homeless camp. It’s an open drug scene,” he said, noting he wasn’t directly familiar with what was happening at the campsite itself since he observed it only one time from a distance. “And so the people that are coming up there are coming up to do business at the end of the street to either buy drugs or to sell drugs.”

[Homeless out in the wind and rain as Mill Campground closes, but warming shelter to open Friday]

Concerns about illicit activity — including trespassing, and damage and theft to property — were reported to the Juneau Police Department and Deputy City Manager Robert Barr, who in recent months has been a lead official in finding a suitable location for a winter warming shelter, Hutchinson said.

JPD tried to provide an extra presence in the area when officers were available in response to such concerns, Lt. Krag Campbell, a spokesperson for the department, said in an interview Thursday.

“We were getting reports of drug activity, public urination, defecation, stuff like that — in general, just a lot of bad behavior,” he said. “So we have had officers up there we had posted as an extra patrol request as officers could be in the area as time allowed. But I do know it was a problem for that area.”

Barr, in an interview Friday, said that while he is willing to discuss the issues raised by Hutchinson and others further with them, he had “no specific comment at this time.”

Brett Hutchinson on Wednesday points to an area at the end of Gastineau Avenue where vehicles were parked this summer, whose occupants he claims were involved in illegal activities such as selling drugs to people staying at Mill Campground this summer. Behind him is a makeshift fence he and other people living nearby built to deter people from using the path over private property to get between the road and the campsite. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Brett Hutchinson on Wednesday points to an area at the end of Gastineau Avenue where vehicles were parked this summer, whose occupants he claims were involved in illegal activities such as selling drugs to people staying at Mill Campground this summer. Behind him is a makeshift fence he and other people living nearby built to deter people from using the path over private property to get between the road and the campsite. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Hutchinson said he and several neighbors spent 10 days beginning in late August building a makeshift fence across his property at the end of the street, and filming and photographing people passing by while issuing warnings to them about trespassing, which resulted in a significant decrease in the presence of such people.

“When we went to bed they were often out there flashing their lights, turning people away,” he said, referring to the police. “Of course, every time the police moved everybody disappears. But it had a good effect in the end that most of the people decided it was easier to go around the other way.”

Concerns to varying degrees were also expressed by other managers and employees at businesses located near the warming shelter scheduled to open Friday night in a city-owned warehouse in Thane about a mile south of the Goldbelt Tram. Some of the workers said people without housing have been caught sleeping in busses parked near the warehouse and have left items behind when ordered to leave.

“Usually they just get out of there, but you still have to clean up the mess,” said Chad Carson, a mechanic at one of the tour companies near the warehouse.

Carson said his company is installing hidden cameras, lighting and taking other steps to safeguard against problems caused by people staying at the shelter.

“Other companies have cameras also, so we can all help each other out,” he said.

However, Carson suggested the city should take steps to ensure businesses and people in the area are protected.

“Why is it going to cost the companies more money to do more security because the city is moving the warming shelter down here?” he said.

JPD doesn’t have any specific plans for a presence in the vicinity of the warming shelter and the department, which is short-staffed, has to handle calls by priority, Campbell said.

“As time allows we’re going to be in the area to have a presence,” he said.

Hutchinson said his wife’s company is taking several steps to safeguard its business.

“We’re going to have somebody who sleeps in there and provides security,” he said. “And we’re going to now have to install alarms on the inside in case somebody breaks through the doors, or have cameras on the outside, but cameras aren’t useful until after something’s been done unless somebody sits there and watches them,” he said.

Also, he said the company will secure its busses because “we know what’s going to happen. They’re going to go in, they’re going to try to start the bus, they’re going to sleep in the bus.”

Hutchinson said he agrees the city should provide full-time security for the area if they are operating the warming shelter there.

Two managerial employees at Gastineau Guiding, located a few hundred yards from the shelter, said Thursday they weren’t aware the shelter was opening at the warehouse Friday. Dawn Wolfe, the company’s chief financial officer, said that while the company’s busses are no longer parked at the site since the cruise ship season is essentially over — and thus the impact on the business likely won’t be significant — the company will likely take some security precautions.

“I will be most concerned in the morning is when people get kicked out, and they’re gonna try and find a place to sleep,” she said. “So we will have to make sure that all of our vehicles are locked, for sure. And in the past with this campground we definitely had people that tried to camp out in our sheds and and in our busses.”

Hutchinson said he didn’t have issues involving the campground and with people accessing it via his property the previous two years.

“As people went through I said ‘Hey, listen, this is my property, you’re trespassing. I don’t care if you just walk through. But the second that my stuff starts to go missing, or somebody damages my property, or people start doing drugs up here, or any of that stuff and the game’s over,’” he said. “And so that happened this summer.”

The next step, Hutchinson said, will be putting together a report of the problems that occurred this summer, the efforts by himself and neighbors to address them, and actions he believes the Assembly and other city officials should take looking forward. As with the warming shelter, the suggestions will include full-time security at the campground.

“The city has an obligation to provide spaces and we should,” he said. At the same time “we’ve got to remember the taxpayers up here that are dealing with what’s going through.”

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

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