Connecting with Juneau’s homeless

Hot lunch is served at Centennial Hall at Wednesday's Project Homeless Event in Juneau. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The Juneau Homeless Coalition’s 3rd annual Project Homeless Connect event was held at three downtown locations today (Wednesday).

The purpose is to take a snapshot count of the city’s homeless population, and provide them with free services, including health care, housing and legal help.

Event organizer and Juneau Economic Development Council Affordable Housing Coordinator Scott Ciambor says more than 50 social service agencies took part this year.

“The goal on a general basis is just to kind of get a gauge for the community on who might be experiencing homelessness on a broad scale,” says Ciambor. “Agencies coordinate with this information to try and dig down and solve particular problems.”

Ciambor estimates Juneau’s homeless population at more than 550 people. That includes individuals camping or living in cars, as well as those temporarily staying with family or friends, or at a motel. He says Juneau’s homeless population ranks very high compared to other communities on a per-capita basis.

“Our official count last year was 562 people homeless, and for a city this small, that’s a pretty large number of people to be displaced, primarily because the housing market is so tight and there’s not a whole lot of development going on,” he says.

In the first two years of the Homeless Connect program, Ciambor says the Homeless Coalition has been able to glean some information about Juneau’s homeless population.

“In 2010, there were 50 or so veterans above the age of 45 who were homeless. So, that enabled coalition agencies to make phone calls to the Veteran’s Administration to see if there was potential of solving those issues,” Ciambor says. “Last year, it was high number of Native Alaska shareholders. I believe it was 106 of the people we saw last year were Sealaska Native Corporation shareholders. So we were able to give that information to them and say, ‘Did you know?’ Who knows what the outlying statistics will be this year.”

19-year-old Willy Boone gets a haircut at Wednesday's Project Homeless Connect event in Juneau. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Nineteen-year-old Willy Boone says he’s been couch surfing for a while now. He took advantage of Project Homeless Connect’s free haircuts, but said his main reason for coming was to get a new ID.

“I need it to get a job and just, like, basic life things,” says Boone. “It’s not smart not to have one. It’s kind of like a passport. You can’t leave the country without one.”

Ciambor says it should take less than a month to finalize this year’s point-in-time count, as well as estimate how many people used services at this year’s event. He says Project Homeless Connect helped more than 150 people in each of the first two years of the program, and was on track to help at least that many on Wednesday.