Cold weather shelter to move into Juneau Arts and Culture Center to improve social distancing

The Juneau Arts and Culture Center in 2014.
The Juneau Arts and Culture Center in 2014. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

The City and Borough of Juneau is planning to move its cold weather seasonal shelter to the Juneau Arts and Culture Center starting Friday.

The move is an attempt to address concerns about creating more space for the city’s vulnerable homeless population amid the spread of coronavirus.

Staff for the JACC were busy packing and moving things to Centennial Hall Thursday in preparation for the shelter, which is currently housed at St. Vincent de Paul Society near the airport.

The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council operates both the JACC and Centennial Hall, which are owned by the city. Executive Director Nancy DeCherney said both are effectively closed right now, with most staff working from home since events have been canceled.

“Reliable Transfer is going to move the grand piano tomorrow. Other things are being moved into our gallery,” DeCherney said. “It’s a very fluid situation and hopefully everything will work itself out in a positive way soon.”

The cold weather shelter will continue to operate under the same hours for now — 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. — whenever the temperature is below freezing. The city contract to operate the warming shelter is through April 15, but could be extended if necessary.

City Housing Officer Scott Ciambor said the JACC is a first step to address immediate needs for the warming shelter. They’ll continue to work with other providers to explore options such as using additional public buildings. The JACC could also be used as a potential quarantine or isolation site.

In a phone meeting Thursday morning, service providers discussed how to safely isolate healthy people and screen others for illness.

Current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend people maintain a distance of six feet between themselves and others. It also discourages public gatherings of 10 people or more.

Mariya Lovishchuk is the director of the Glory Hall homeless shelter. She said she won’t send any of the people who typically stay at the shelter to the JACC, because it doesn’t have adequate facilities and space.

She feels the city isn’t doing enough to address the immediate needs of Juneau’s most vulnerable community.

“We propose that the city immediately gets people who do not need any kind of supervision, and who are only at the shelter because they saw hard times and they’re experiencing homelessness, in a hotel room, and we do this for two weeks starting tonight.”

Lovishchuk said they would need 36 rooms, and this would also help reduce pressure on the JACC — giving those who can’t stay on their own in a hotel a less crowded space.

 

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