Opinion: Southeast Community Services Center strengthens Juneau

The need for improved services in Juneau is real.

  • Monday, July 6, 2020 11:21am
  • Opinion

For more than 25 years, Southeast Alaska Independent Living has worked with seniors and people who experience disabilities to help them realize their full potential and live with dignity and independence in the setting of their choice. Far from telling someone what to do, SAIL is committed to empowering every person we work with by connecting them to the information and tools they need to successfully control their lives.

For many, accessing useful resources for things like secure housing, food stability and affordable health care can be a complex, involved and frustrating process that necessitates coordination between nonprofit, state, tribal and federal entities, medical providers, and more. It takes time, patience and persistence.

At SAIL we know that improving access to Juneau’s safety net will make our community stronger and more resilient. A decade ago, SAIL joined a coalition effort to co-locate nonprofit organizations that serve Juneau’s most vulnerable community members by creating a shared nonprofit center. Today, we are closer than ever to realizing our vision of a community services center where collaboration creates cost efficiencies and supports the independence and empowerment needed to transform the lives of the people we serve.

The Southeast Community Services Center will house a variety of nonprofits that serve youth, seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families. In addition to SAIL, the center will include Alaska Legal Services, United Way, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Disability Law Center and United Human Services.

The Southeast Community Services Center will create an accessible, welcoming home where our community can more easily access and coordinate services. The need for improved services in Juneau is real. More than 3,000 residents experience a disability, approximately 4,000 residents are seniors 65 or older and more than 2,000 community members live in poverty. Our agencies are scattered throughout Juneau, and often those in need are unsure of where to turn. The Center’s “one stop shop” model has seen success in communities around the country, leading to the innovations and outcomes that make communities healthier and more resilient. We are confident it will work in Juneau, and we’re excited to have well-established partners to bring the project to fruition.

We are collaborating with the Glory Hall, which plans to build a separate facility adjacent to the Community Services Center. The short-term shelter will improve homeless services with accessible sleeping quarters that adhere to social distancing guidelines, secure private storage, room for safe meal delivery and a secure place for outdoor congregating. Co-locating our projects will help people experiencing homelessness to exit into stable housing by connecting them to supports and resources nearby.

Currently, SAIL and The Glory Hall co-own the property, and it will be subdivided for separate ownership in the near future. We looked at many possibilities around Juneau and chose this property because it is centrally located, flat, zoned appropriately for our projects and situated close to community partners like St. Vincent de Paul, Smith Hall senior housing, Juneau Youth Services and Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

COVID-19 has illustrated to us how fragile the social safety nets are for many of the people we serve and how important it is to design our services to be safe and accessible.

The Southeast Community Services Center will position SAIL and our partners to better serve the needs of our community by creating a centralized nonprofit hub so our patrons won’t need to take unnecessary risks by entering multiple buildings or trudging around town for paperwork. Those in need will be able to find solutions safely.

One of SAIL’s core values is collaboration. We believe that we are stronger when we work together. The Southeast Community Services Center will embody the spirit of collaboration to improve outcomes for those we serve and strengthen our community for many years to come. We still have planning and fundraising ahead of us to complete the project. Your support will be needed and deeply appreciated and your ideas and feedback welcome. Please email me at info@sailinc.org or call our office at 586-4920 if you’d like to initiate a conversation.

• Joan O’Keefe is Executive Director of Southeast Alaska Independent Living, which serves more than 1,200 seniors and people living with disabilities throughout Southeast Alaska. She also leads United Human Services of Southeast Alaska, the local nonprofit formed to maximize organizational effectiveness by co-locating Juneau social services nonprofits in a shared office building. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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