My Turn: Support the needy and homeless

  • Wednesday, December 9, 2015 1:04am
  • Opinion

For over three decades, the Glory Hole Shelter and Soup Kitchen, located on South Franklin Street in Juneau, has offered 20 meals a week to Juneau’s needy and shelter to Juneau’s homeless. (“Glory Hole” is a mining term for a surface depression caused by mine operations. There are a couple in Juneau.) It is open every day of the year.

In 2015, the Glory Hole has served over 45,000 meals and had nearly 10,000 overnight stays.

There are several sources of money to fund the Glory Hole’s operations. It receives grants from the city, state and federal governments. It receives grants from various charitable foundations. But the largest single source of funding, by far, is the generosity of the people of Juneau, through both individual donations and donations from their places of worship.

Over the years the range of services provided by the Glory Hole have steadily increased. It is no longer just a soup kitchen and homeless shelter. Just to list a few of the other services it provides, the Glory Hole offers assistance to clients applying for rightfully entitled benefits, assistance in finding housing (including instruction to increase odds of tenancy acceptance) and directs them to agencies for help with problems such as substance abuse and mental health issues. It also operates a rooftop garden that not only produces fresh fruit and vegetables, but offers rewarding work to those who choose to participate in planting, growing and harvesting.

During the past year the Glory Hole, through executive director Mariya Lovishchuk, has taken the lead in coordinating with other nonprofit agencies to advance a project called Housing First. The project is designed to provide permanent housing for the most vulnerable homeless residents of Juneau. It has been met with great success across the United States in places such as Anchorage and Seattle.

A recent vulnerability survey conducted in the early morning where the homeless often sleep found 69 people, with at least 40 at high risk of death or severe illness. Most of these people have severe substance abuse problems, mostly with alcohol, and hence are frequently not allowed to stay in the Glory Hole. (Management and the board have had to balance the needs of these individuals for shelter with the extreme disruption they often create, making life at the shelter intolerable for other residents. Although inebriated persons are not allowed to take meals at the Glory Hole, they may always receive a sack meal at the door, and if they have an appropriate container can take the hot meal being served.)

The Housing First project will construct a 32-unit building in Lemon Creek on land contributed by the Tlingit and Haida Regional Housing Authority.

Unlike at the Glory Hole, where only group dormitory facilities are available, each resident of the Housing First project will have his or her own apartment. Subject to some restrictions, residents can live their lives as they want; most notably, consumption and possession of alcohol will be allowed. The project will be staffed by trained Glory Hole employees, under a contract between the Glory Hole and the Housing First board. Some group meals will be offered to residents.

If 32 units are not sufficient, the building can be expanded to add more units, if the funding is available.

The new building will also house the Front Street Clinic, which will relocate from Front Street to Lemon Creek. Other cities have found Housing First projects have not only bettered the lives of their residents but resulted in substantial public savings. To cite one such saving, many chronically inebriated individuals require frequent admission to the Bartlett Regional Hospital emergency room, at a tremendous cost to the government.

With their own place to live, and with the clinic right at hand, there should be far less need for such emergency room visits. Also, Housing First will almost certainly sharply reduce the number of Juneau homeless who die on the streets. (There will be a brief memorial service for those who died in the last year at 5 p.m. Dec. 18, at the Glory Hole.) Priority in initial admissions will be given to those deemed most at risk.

So what can you do to help the needy and homeless in Juneau?

Donations to the Glory Hole and the other local organizations providing such assistance are of course essential. Each year about this time we get a bit nervous because year-to-date donations are well below our budgeted figures, but each year the generosity of Juneau always saves us.

You will be able to donate to the Glory Hole next year through the Pick, Click and Give option of the Permanent Fund Dividend program. The Glory Hole always needs blankets and gently used clothing, and donations of food. Evening meals are provided by local organizations, particularly churches and other religious groups, but there are always a few evenings a month not spoken for. You can attend our major fundraiser, Empty Bowls, in late April at Centennial Hall.

You can also encourage your federal, state and local legislative officials to maximize their support for the needy and homeless. And you can keep in contact with the Glory Hole at, and follow us on Facebook at Feedjuneau.

Thank you for all you do, and we wish everyone a happy holiday season.

• John Gaguine is a retired state employee. He has been cooking dinners at the Glory Hole with a group of friends since 1997, and has been a member of the Glory Hole board for well over a decade. He is currently president of the board.

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