Juneau warming shelter plan takes shape

The City and Borough of Juneau is pushing forward with plans for an emergency warming shelter that would open its doors to the homeless when temperatures drop below freezing.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety building in January 2012. (File photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

A key Assembly committee met Monday and agreed – in principle — to commit $75,000 for the downtown warming shelter it hopes to have ready by mid-November.

City Manager Rorie Watt said his office is in talks with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to rent a portion of the former state public safety building on Whittier Avenue.

The rent would be at market rate, around $8,000 for the winter, though he said the city could apply to the Trust’s board for a discount.

“We recognize that the Mental Health Trust is a willing building owner that would be easy to work with on this topic that I don’t think would be true of all private building owners,” Watt told Assembly members.

The city had looked at using its downtown transit center, which already is a common place for homeless people to congregate. But Watt told the Assembly he could see problems with that idea.

“The transit center, you know, it has a day function, and part of the thinking was that if it is a night warming shelter, and then magically at 7 a.m. in the morning it stops being a warming shelter and tries to become a transit center, that’s not really going to be successful,” Watt said. “It’s going to be a day-round shelter.”

The warming center would be designed to accommodate about 25 people.

The city estimates it would be open as-needed between mid-November and mid-April.

The Juneau Commission on Housing and Homelessness brought the idea of a warming shelter to the Assembly’s task force on homelessness, which endorsed the plan.

The Juneau Assembly must formally authorize the warming shelter next month for it to open by Nov. 15.

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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