Juneau Assembly decides to keep using JACC building as emergency warming shelter after all

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)

The debate over a permanent home for Juneau’s emergency shelter was put to rest Monday night  when the Assembly rejected all of the proposals for new locations.

At a committee meeting, assembly members reviewed a list of properties the city could buy with federal CARES Act funding to serve as an emergency cold weather shelter. The city has been temporarily running a shelter out of the Juneau Arts and Culture Center, or JACC, since March.

Assembly member Loren Jones made the motion to keep the shelter at the JACC.

“More information about a couple of buildings is not going to give us any more information about what we ought to do,” he said.

The Assembly decided, unanimously, to keep the shelter where it is until next April.

Jones argued that moving the shelter would be a waste of money and staff time and that it wouldn’t address underlying issues of homelessness in Juneau.

When the city last counted the population in January, there were 46 unsheltered people and 69 people staying at the emergency shelter.

“So to me, operating the shelter as it is — at the place that it is — gives staff time to look at those numbers,” he said. “But it can’t be a solution done in two months.”

Jones pointed out that a number of other projects are in the works to address housing needs for the homeless.

Juneau’s Housing First facility in Lemon Creek was recently expanded. And the Glory Hall is making plans to move its downtown homeless shelter to the Mendenhall Valley, hopefully sometime next year.

But, Jones said that even with roughly 40 people staying in the emergency shelter on most nights, there are still others choosing to sleep on the street downtown, so buying a building might not be the right solution.

“You’re asking the wrong question about the wrong information, and you’re going to get the wrong answer,” he said.

The city’s two top contenders for the new emergency shelter were the Bill Ray Center on F Street and a warehouse on Willoughby Avenue. Some neighbors in the nearby Flats neighborhood took issue with the Bill Ray Center, saying it would bring the homeless population into an area with schools and families.

A virtual meeting last week saw mixed testimony from about 20 residents from all over Juneau weighing in on the list of potential sites for the shelter.

In past years, the shelter only operated between November and April on nights when the temperature was below freezing. It stayed open through the summer this year, due to an increased need for housing during the pandemic.

St. Vincent de Paul Society has a contract with the city to operate the emergency shelter at the JACC until April.

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