The Glory Hall, Juneau’s downtown homeless shelter and soup kitchen, has plans to move to a new location near the city’s airport. That’s if supporters can raise the money it needs for a down payment.
But the shelter is also getting pushback from community members about the potential impact of the move and what some believe has been a lack of transparency.
Community members met with staff from the Glory Hall and their board last week.
The Glory Hall’s board of directors first circulated a fundraising letter in June asking for donations to help with the $300,000 down payment on a new piece of land.
In the letter, members of the fundraising committee write that the Glory Hall — formerly known as the Glory Hole — provides an essential safety net for vulnerable people in need of food and shelter.
They also write that some in the community feel the current location “has a negative impact on downtown and downtown businesses.”
That has led to concern among some Juneau residents that the move is motivated by business interests, rather than what’s best for the shelter’s patrons.
“That is not what’s happening. The Glory Hole has fought about this long and hard,” said Glory Hall Director Mariya Lovishchuck. “The reason is definitely to serve our mission better, and not because we’re getting pushed out of town.”
She said the Glory Hall has outgrown its current facility. The building can’t accommodate patrons with mobility issues, and there’s not enough storage. They also have problems keeping the building secure.
The Glory Hall submitted an application to move to a city-owned property in the Mendenhall Valley last year, but withdrew it after neighbors complained.
Lovishchuk said she held the meeting to answer questions. She also wanted to get feedback from neighbors of the lot they hope to buy. The land is in an industrial area behind the Nugget Mall and owned by St. Vincent de Paul, a charity with a transitional housing facility nearby.
But Valley residents Ron and Kathy Swanson said after the meeting they didn’t feel like their questions were answered. They live in the Aurora Court neighborhood about a half-mile away from the proposed new location.
“There hasn’t been any transparency with our neighborhood,” Ron Swanson said. “We’re families with kids out in the Valley, versus the demographic downtown, which is tourists and businesses.”
He said he only learned about the land purchase secondhand and was surprised to hear how far along in the process the homeless shelter had gotten before the meeting. He doesn’t think the Glory Hall has done enough outreach to potential neighbors.
Some business owners at the meeting raised concerns about impacts on their property taxes if a homeless shelter moves in down the road.
“Were those businesses ever asked about what their thoughts and concerns were? They just didn’t approach anybody,” Swanson said.
Other people pointed out that the current plan would move the Glory Hall’s patrons farther away from services like the Front Street Clinic downtown.
Lina, a Glory Hall patron, said she’s not worried about where the shelter is. She just wants a safe place to sleep.
“When a person needs a place to live, they’re not going to be very picky at that choice,” she said. “They need services, not just the shelter.”
Brad Perkins, the general manager at St. Vincent de Paul, said the facility has been providing housing services for decades.
“We are one of the hubs of the services at St. Vincent,” Perkins said.
In addition to managing a senior housing facility and several subsidized apartment complexes, St. Vincent de Paul’s transitional housing complex houses 13 families at any given time. It also runs a food pantry and a secondhand store. St. Vincent’s community navigators provide one-on-one support for those dealing with homelessness.
Perkins said the prospect of consolidating Juneau’s homeless services by becoming neighbors with the Glory Hall has been discussed for a while. He said they hope to use the proceeds from the land sale for much-needed upgrades to their own facilities.
According to Bruce Denton, vice president of the Glory Hall board, they need less than $20,000 at this point to secure the land by Sept. 1.
After that, the board will work with NorthWind Architects to refine plans for what the new building will look like.
Lovishchuk said the long-term plan for the Glory Hall includes selling the downtown property, although she said at the meeting she did not know the current value.
City records show that the property was last assessed in 2010, when the land and building value totaled $845,100. But it hasn’t been assessed since then, because the Glory Hall doesn’t pay property taxes. That’s because a religious organization owns the building.
In the meantime, Lovishchuk said they’re operating with about half their normal staff levels at the Glory Hall. She said several staff members left after Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed funding to social services. The Glory Hall stopped serving breakfast and lunch for a short time.
Even though they were able to start serving those meals again quickly, they haven’t managed to replace all of their staff.