Juneau homeless served with trespass notices

Juneau Empire reporter interviews a Juneau police officer Tuesday, August 22, 2017, at an encampment on Alaska Mental Health Trust property off Egan Drive. Juneau police served a notice of trespass to the encampment. The notice gave the encampment two weeks to leave the property. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)

Juneau Empire reporter Alex McCarthy interviews Juneau Police Officer Ken Colon on Tuesday at an encampment on Alaska Mental Health Trust property off Egan Drive. Juneau police served notices of trespass to the campers. The notice gave them two weeks to leave the property. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)

Residents in a homeless camp on the edge of downtown Juneau have been served with a formal trespassing notice by the landowner, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.

Juneau Police Department officers and social care agencies walked through Tuesday afternoon delivering formal trespass notices. The encampment off Egan Drive mushroomed in recent months after police began enforcing park closures downtown.

Police Officer Ken Colon said the notices explain that people need to be off the property by Sept. 5 or face prosecution. They also include names, addresses and phone numbers of local social service agencies that could help.

This land is part of the Alaska Mental Health Trust. The trust’s land office is negotiating the sale of at least one of the parcels for redevelopment and wants to clear both parcels of vegetation.

Closest to the road are a collection of tarps rigged up to keep a cooking and sleeping area out of the rain.

“When we got here it was pretty rough,” said resident Tapia Church, 45. “Then a couple of us got together and were like, ‘Hey man, we can’t have this stuff here. Pick up your garbage and throw it in the trash.’ Simple stuff.”

About a dozen residents in a homeless camp on the former sub-port property were served with this notice of trespass on Tuesday. (Photo by Jacob Resneck/KTOO)

He’s been here for about two months but admits the site isn’t perfect. He said further back in the bushes, there’s hard drinking, hard drugs and occasional bouts of violence.

“A lot of it just had to do with drinking, really,” he said. “Drinking and fighting that was about it.”

Juneau is grappling with a homeless crisis. It’s complex. Housing costs, mental illness and substance abuse, compound it.

This week the city applied to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to fund a coordinator for homeless services. The request is for about $100,000 annually for three years.

The trust authority’s chief operating officer, Steve Williams, stood by as police officers talked to camp residents. He said the agency’s board will consider the city’s grant request.

“I haven’t looked at the grant application,” Williams said, “but I’m sure it’s to try and help pull together the resources here in the community to try and do a concerted effort on outreach and, you know, developing solution for homelessness.”

The city is considering extending operation of the seasonal Thane campground. It usually shuts down in October but may stay open longer this year.

The campground hasn’t been popular with Juneau’s homeless.

“There’s two reasons: number one it’s quite a walk from town and number two it’s not continuously open,” said camper Nick Beers, 30.

Where these people will go isn’t clear. Many don’t know themselves. But residents said they’re resigned to the fact that they’ll have to move on.

“We just wanted something, a nice little spot, a little hunker down for four or five of us,” Church said, “A little community, that’s what we did here.”

Shelter beds are scarce and social agencies say resources are thinly stretched.

The Juneau Housing First apartments are slated to open next month – that will offer shelter to 32 of the most vulnerable homeless residents. But a survey this year counted at least 215 homeless people in the community.

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