The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska hopes to build not one, but two re-entry housing facilities in Lemon Creek for men recently released from prison.
Talia Eames is the re-entry and recovery manager for the central council. During a neighborhood meeting about one of the proposals last week, she said affordable housing is a major obstacle people face when trying to get their lives back on track after prison.
It’s one of the reasons they often end up going back. Eames said two out of three people released from prison in Alaska return within three years. They want to help change that.
“We want people that are ready. We want them to be eager to come in and to have training, and resources, employment assistance,” Eames said. “We want to make sure that we are creating a cohort of peers that work together to be successful.”
She added that Alaska Natives are over-represented in state prisons. That’s why the designs for both buildings mimic the multi-generational, multi-family longhouses used in Southeast Alaska for thousands of years.
Residents would pay rent and serve the community by volunteering. They expect people to stay between six months and two years and plan to have 24-hour surveillance, with spaces for cultural activities and family time.
Eames said they will work closely with parole officers and Lemon Creek Correctional Center. Plans include onsite case managers and resident managers and COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
Sex offenders will not be accepted into the program.
One of the properties is on Alaway Avenue near the Juneau Police Department headquarters and would have 16 residents.
The other would have 12 residents. It’s on Allen Court near Forget-Me-Not Manor, another supportive housing facility in Lemon Creek.
Wayne Coogan testified at the meeting, saying neighbors with young families near the proposed facilities are worried about the impact.
“I acknowledge the noble and virtuous efforts that are involved in this thing, but there is another side to it,” Coogan said. “I think that the people that are trying to make a home down there in that neighborhood, the compatibility issue is a grave one.”
Other testimony was overwhelmingly supportive, with several members of the local social services community saying that housing support is extremely important for those reentering society.
Mary Alice McKeen is president of the board for Haven House, a re-entry facility for women in the Mendenhall Valley.
She said Haven House faced concerns from neighbors when it opened in 2015. But there have been virtually no complaints since then.
“People who were opposed to the transitional housing have come around to support it. There used to be signs up, ‘Good idea, wrong place.’ None of those signs are up anymore,” McKeen said.
The plans will be presented to the city planning commission on Aug. 11.