Juneau’s homeless population declines for first time since 2016

An interactive map detailing homeless populations in Alaska communities. (Institute for Community Alliances graphic)

The numbers are in from the most recent survey of Juneau’s homeless population, and things appear to be improving.

The results of this year’s count found 210 people experiencing homelessness — that’s the lowest it’s been since 2016.

The nationwide Point in Time count takes place every January and is required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for communities that receive federal funding.

Those who work closely with the homeless say the count is a useful tool for tracking progress.

“There’s certain populations that it does pretty good with — those who are in emergency shelters and those who are in transitional housing, because we can keep track of those folks pretty easily,” said Irene Gallion, housing and homeless services coordinator for the City and Borough of Juneau.

In the last two years, Juneau’s count has seen a substantial drop among unsheltered people — those are individuals documented sleeping outside.

But Gallion recognizes the count has shortcomings when it comes to tracking unsheltered people and homeless youth.

“So I don’t want to get too excited about a drop of a little over 20 people,” Gallion said.

According to statewide results, Juneau has the second-highest homeless population among the 11 Alaska communities surveyed. That’s behind Anchorage, where over 1,100 homeless people were documented in this year’s count.

A table showing historical trends of homeless populations in Juneau.
(Graphic courtesy City and Borough of Juneau)

Local providers credit Juneau’s decline in unsheltered homeless people in part to the city’s cold weather shelter, which has now operated for two winters in a row.

The old state Department of Public Safety building used for the shelter is in the process of being demolished. Gallion said the funding for next winter’s shelter is already allocated, but the city needs to figure out where to house it. She added that the opening of Juneau’s Housing First complex in late 2017 continues to have a major impact on numbers.

The complex in Lemon Creek provides supportive housing to 32 previously homeless individuals — people who used to show up in the annual count.

“They are considered housed, permanently,” Gallion said.

Now the Housing First facility is slated for expansion. Construction should begin next week on a new wing for the complex, doubling its capacity to 64 residents.

Mariya Lovishchuk of the Juneau Housing First Collaborative said she hopes to see the new tenants move in by this time next year.

“With phase two of Housing First coming on line, we’ll really see a huge decline in that particular segment of the population who are experiencing homelessness,” Lovishchuk said.

Funding for phase two came from a mixture of public and private sources, but Lovishchuk said they still need to raise another $200,000 from the community.

Two people and a dog curl up near a boiler room on Shattuck Way on Jan. 20, 2017, in downtown Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska's Energy Desk)
Two people and a dog curl up near a boiler room on Shattuck Way in downtown Juneau on Jan. 20, 2017. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

She also runs the downtown homeless shelter The Glory Hall and said Housing First has made a big difference in addressing chronic homelessness in Juneau. But she said there are still segments of the population that need help, like families and working people struggling to make ends meet.

Juneau has a number of organizations providing assistance to those groups, but resources are always an issue.

“Because of the social safety nets being so thin … that leaves a lot of people who we still have to address,” said Lovishchuk.

She and other housing providers have expressed concern over proposed cuts to social services in the state budget. If the cuts end up being substantial enough, Lovishchuk said the Housing First facility will not be able to continue operating.

That could impact next year’s numbers, but the Point in Time count is just that — numbers.

The barriers and solutions to addressing homelessness are more complex than raw data.

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