As the sun sinks ever earlier and the temperatures edge below the freezing mark, Juneau’s most vulnerable are more and more at risk to the frigid temperatures and cruel wind.
This year, St. Vincent de Paul Cold Weather Emergency Shelter will offer overnight respite from the weather.
“Our goal is to keep you from dying on the street because this is the last safety net,” said Bradley Perkins, the general manager of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Juneau. “We’re trying to make sure people come here because we don’t want them to die in the cold.”
St. Vincent de Paul, a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting the most vulnerable members of society, has taken over the warming shelter, which it also helped run last year when it was located at the old public safety building.
“This is really a much better setup for this kind of use,” said Richard Cole, the warming center manager and St. Vincent de Paul Navigator. “As this evolves, I think we’re doing a better job all the time.”
The facility, located near the airport in St. Vincent de Paul’s building, will be served by a shuttle beginning on Saturday. The shuttle will begin operations when the shelter opens its doors at 11 p.m. and will make stops at frequently trafficked bus stops, including Mendenhall Mall, Fred Meyer, downtown, the Glory Hall, the downtown library and the transit center. The complete list is on the shelter’s website, svdpjuneau.org/cold-weather-emergency-shelter/.
“When the city transit buses stop running at 11 p.m., we take the shuttle out. Every hour on the hour,” Perkins said.
The warming shelter will shut down at 7 a.m. each morning, when the morning busses begin running. Employees will help those in need assistance with bus tokens, Perkins said. While neighbors have expressed concerns about the clients of the shelter, Perkins said, he isn’t worried about their impact on the neighborhood.
“We know all these people,” Perkins said. “They’re not the ones breaking into cars and homes. They’re getting preyed upon by those people.”
The shelter has space for nearly 40 people, which has been the high-water mark observed for clients in the past.
“Thirty-five is historically the peak,” Cole said. “The idea is that the services we provide are emergency services. We provide something warm to eat. We provide some light bedding. Somewhere to take their shoes and socks off and get their feet dry.”
The change in venue came after the demolition of the public safety building, which had previously been the site of the warming center.
St. Vincent de Paul took a three-year contract with the city after a successful bidding process in which they are obliged to open the shelter every time the temperature in downtown Juneau is colder than 32 degrees. But they can open for more than that now, Perkins said.
“I can open more, I can open earlier, I can open if it’s more than 32 degrees,” Perkins said. “Saturday looks like it might be 33-34, but I think we’re gonna open anyway.”
The shelter also has signs located in spots across town, including behind City Hall, Polaris House, Resurrection Lutheran Church and the St. Vincent de Paul store, that will light up if the shelter is open for the evening. It will also be up on their Twitter if the shelter is open.
Perkins and Cole mentioned that St. Vincent de Paul couldn’t do it without help.
“Juneau Police Department has been very supportive, and they’ve been great since the first night,” Cole said.
Other organizations, including Alaska Laundry and Sportsman’s Warehouse, have contributed supplies or offered discounted services to the shelter to help keep the clients clean, safe, and warm.
“We want to treat people the right way,” Perkins said. “We try to serve them with compassion and care.”