Juneau’s emergency shelter will stay open through September, hopefully longer

People who stay overnight at the emergency shelter inside the Juneau Arts and Culture Center use the same cot and blankets on consecutive nights. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

Usually in the summer, there’s a drop in demand for services for people experiencing homelessness. But local service providers say that hasn’t happened this year.

This spring, the city extended its contract with St. Vincent de Paul — the non-profit that runs the emergency warming shelter — until mid-July. It also opened a new public campground where people can stay for free.

Now St. Vincent’s General Manager Dave Ringle says the shelter’s contract has been extended through September 15, with the potential to go to Nov. 24.

“Right now we’re averaging over 50 people a night at our shelter,” Ringle said by phone Wednesday. “The Mill campground has 20 sites that have been full or almost full since the start of the summer.”

Normally, the emergency shelter is open from November to April on nights when the temperature is below freezing. But this year, it may not close at all.

Ringle said the pandemic is having financial and psychological impacts on people who were already struggling, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

The Glory Hall homeless shelter downtown also reduced the number of people who can stay overnight to follow health recommendations. That’s left more people looking for a place to sleep.

St. Vincent’s moved the emergency shelter into the Juneau Arts and Culture Center in March to allow more space between beds.

“It’s the little factors that social distancing requires that puts that much more stress on everybody and we’re still trying to adapt to it,” Ringle said.

There is some relief on the horizon. Construction recently wrapped up on the second phase of of Juneau’s Housing First complex. A new wing with 32 additional apartments will double the number of vulnerable adults able to live at Forget-Me-Not Manor in Lemon Creek.

Ringle said it will take some time to identify new residents and move them in. Even though that will take some pressure off of the emergency shelter and other services, it’s still not enough.

“We need to look long term at an emergency solution for housing that goes beyond September 15 into the winter,” he said.

Housing and social service providers in Juneau are looking to the city for help, and not just with housing.

A proposal to use local CARES Act funding to pay local restaurants to prepare meals for community members experiencing food insecurity is making its way toward the Assembly.

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