Vote postponed over Juneau’s controversial ‘camping ordinance’

Juneau homeless resident Everett Johnson, far left, testifies about sleeping on the streets before the Juneau Assembly on Monday. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

Juneau’s controversial anti-camping ordinance that would empower police officers to crack down on homeless people sleeping downtown has been postponed until next month.

That’s following more than 90 minutes of testimony from dozens of residents including merchants, social workers and homeless people.

They all agreed on one thing: Juneau has a serious homeless problem.

But speakers had radically different viewpoints.

Douglas resident Greg Capito told the Juneau Assembly on Monday night that tensions are rising between increasingly desperate people sheltering downtown, and that employees and patrons are increasingly afraid.

“In the last three years, downtown Juneau has changed and, ladies and gentlemen, not for the better,” Capito said. “There’s fear in the eyes of everybody. When you look in somebody’s eyes and see fear you never forget it.”

Other speakers also testified that they were feeling increasingly unsafe downtown, especially after dark.

But 27-year-old homeless Juneau resident Lisa Williams said that if the proposed ordinance is passed, she doesn’t know what she’d do.

“We have nowhere to go. And we’re already homeless,” she said. “If we had money to pay for something we would pay for it. You guys are trying to give us tickets or whatever — but if we’re homeless how are we going to pay for it? We don’t have anything, we don’t have a home. We’re staying in cubbyholes and everyone is saying they’re scared but — we’re harmless.”

Daryl Miller, owner of a downtown commercial printing business, said he likes the idea of more shelter capacity and an emergency warming station. But he’s reached the breaking point with people sleeping downtown.

“I’m tired of babysitting and cleaning up on a daily basis,” Miller testified. “So much so that I will be moving my business in the next three months from its current location, and one of the main reasons is because of the daily cleanup.”

Another longtime homeless resident, Everett Johnson, said elected officials don’t know what it’s like to be destitute and challenged them to put themselves in his place.

For people like him it’s a matter of daily survival, he said.

“You want to get us off downtown? OK — build us another shelter. Don’t make it difficult. We’re already having a hard time,” Johnson said, his voice trembling with emotion. “As I look at every one of you you guys got a bed, a warm place. Not me, not me. As a matter of fact, I brought my bed with me and that’s my sleeping bag.”

The Juneau Assembly concluded the ordinance’s public hearing and is scheduled to revisit the issue at its Feb. 13 meeting.

Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director based in Juneau. CoastAlaska is our partner in Southeast Alaska. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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