For more than a year, Juneau teens in need of temporary shelter have had nowhere to go.
Now, a property that served that purpose for decades may fill the need again, but getting it back up and running isn’t a simple process.
Local housing providers say, right now, finding a safe place for homeless, at-risk and runaway youth to stay should be a priority.
“There is no shelter for kids at the moment,” said Gus Marx, grants coordinator for Juneau Youth Services. “There’s a dozen kids at least that we could probably count who right now need somewhere to go.”
Juneau Youth Services used to operate an emergency shelter at a city-owned property in the Mendenhall Valley.
Marx testified at a Juneau Assembly committee meeting on Monday. He said the Hurlock Avenue facility isn’t in perfect condition, but it has everything it needs to open up quickly.
“There’s nowhere else I can think of in town that, at least immediately, could be used to house kids,” Marx said. “And again, this is temporary. This is just to get kids back on their feet, hopefully back home, back to someplace safe.”
The Hurlock facility was Juneau’s emergency shelter for homeless and at-risk youth for decades. But Juneau Youth Services relocated the shelter in 2017 and had to close it down last year after losing federal funding.
Jorden Nigro manages the city-owned Zach Gordon Youth Center. She works with teens facing housing issues all the time, but this year is different.
“This issue has been pretty significantly exacerbated by the pandemic,” Nigro said on Monday. “So, average year, there’s around 125 homeless youth annually and about 50% of those youth in the Juneau School District are teens.”
Nigro was presenting a project proposal to Assembly members. She said teen homelessness is usually less visible, because they tend to couch surf with friends or find other ways to stay under the radar. But the pandemic is making that harder, along with so many other things.
“Their need is so high that they’re seeking us out and finding us, and so we’re just, we’re just seeing a lot more kids in need lately,” she said.
So now, with a pressing need for a youth shelter and an empty building practically ready to go, Tlingit Haida Regional Housing Authority and Zach Gordon Youth Center have stepped forward with a plan.
Under the proposal, the housing authority would basically act as landlord. Zach Gordon would oversee programming and staffing.
They’re proposing emergency housing for about a dozen youth ages 10 to 20 and an annual operating budget of $600,000.
They’ve got state and federal grants and local contributions to help cover most of that but would need about $120,000 in annual funding from the city. The building will also need a new roof in the next few years.
Here’s where the process gets a little complicated.
The city already sold the property in 2018, and they did it under pretty favorable terms, on the condition that the local company that bought it — Alaska Legacy Partners — turn it into senior assisted living. That’s another major need in Juneau.
But, that venture didn’t work out for a few reasons, with the pandemic and a competing assisted living project nearby among them.
Alaska Legacy Partners Co-Founder Garrett Schoenberger said they’d be glad to see the Hurlock property serve a need in Juneau, even though their plans didn’t work out.
“You know, we’re not looking to make a profit on this,” Schoenberger said. “We’re just looking to recoup some of our costs, and we have found with Tlingit and Haida [Regional Housing Authority] and Zach Gordon and the youth homeless facility, it was a great use that felt like it was a win-win for us to be able to hand over the keys to a new use that’s going to be a community benefit.”
Several community members also testified at the meeting this week.
Some encouraged the Assembly to approve the proposal, and others raised concerns about the lack of neighborhood engagement so far.
The Assembly will hold public hearings on the two ordinances related to the proposal at next Monday’s meeting.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Jorden Nigro’s first name.