By the end of the week, Juneau’s downtown emergency shelter and soup kitchen plans to be serving all of its patrons at its new facility on the other side of town. That means big changes for the patrons.
Robert Pedrena works at the Glory Hall as a cook and cleaner. The new kitchen isn’t ready yet, so he’ll still be cooking downtown for awhile in a mostly empty building. But meals will be delivered to the new building beginning Thursday evening.
Space is tight in the kitchen area. In the day room, where meals used to be served and people relaxed, Pedrena’s voice echoes. Not because it’s especially big, but because it’s empty. It’s been closed since the pandemic because it’s too cramped to keep enough distance between people to meet health guidance for limiting the spread of COVID-19.
The shelter has been renting a bigger space next door as a day room and to serve meals. It will shut down this week, too, as the new space opens on Teal Street near the airport.
Upstairs at the old Glory Hall, there are three communal dorm rooms with bunks for about 30 people. There’s only enough space to get to and from the bunks.
Out the back door, one of the last people staying here after capacity was cut because of COVID is waiting on some laundry. He introduces himself: “Gerald S. James, nickname is Speedy.”
James says he works part-time in the evening and has been helping a bit with the Glory Hall’s move. He’s a little sentimental about the old building.
“Being here has changed me,” he said. “When I was working? I was alcoholic.”
As he tells it, his life took a bad turn a few years ago after he lost a restaurant job in town that he’d had for decades. He says he was drinking a lot of hard alcohol and living on the streets.
“And it’s scary when I look at that, ’cause I remember once, I went through that stage — shakes. The shakes are the worsest thing to ever happen in the morning. ‘Cause you’re trying to grab a glass, your hand is like that —” James holds his hand out and moves it like he has a tremor — “you can’t even hold onto it unless you have your other hand behind it.”
He says he started staying at the downtown Glory Hall a few years ago. He’s still drinking but says he gets by with beer now instead of hard liquor. He says he’s tapering himself down.
“I started to realize, I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to be like this,” James said. “I want to live a long life. I’ve got kids, got my grandkids.”
The Glory Hall used to deny entry to people who failed a Breathalyzer test. That condition was suspended during the pandemic. It hasn’t been decided yet if it will come back.
When he’s done with his laundry, James says he’d figure out how to make the move to the new Glory Hall.
“I got to head out the road and go grab my stuff and talk to the guys inside and see about another place. … So I got to find out about that, and I got — I guess I got a room,” he said.
He does, one of 42 at the new Glory Hall. James has a relative in town who helps him get around, but at the new place, he’ll be near a bus stop and have access to a shuttle service the nonprofit is running.
Work is still underway at the new Glory Hall. On Tuesday, one shelter worker who has some carpentry skills was using an impact driver to put together coat racks for the new rooms.
The new building feels kind of like a college residence hall. On the ground floor, there’s the day room, kitchen, storage and office space. Plus an elevator; the old Glory Hall was not wheelchair accessible.
On the second floor, there’s a laundry room, a hallway of individual bathrooms and showers, and the bedrooms. Some have curtains up temporarily, where doors will eventually go. The rooms are small and spartan, but they’re individual rooms — no bunks.
“I think giving people their own space is going to be huge for, you know, people’s mental health and well-being,” said Luke Vroman, the Glory Hall’s program manager. “Like, I think a lot of these people are never alone at this point, you know? They sleep either at the warming shelter, at the Glory Hall, in rooms with people, and then they hang out all day in the Glory Hall. And maybe the only, you know, 10 minutes they get alone every day is like, going on a walk or something.”
Vroman says it’s more dignified. The residents will have their own room keys, plus locking storage inside for extra security.
“Which is a big thing because theft is huge at the Glory Hall,” he said.
But the new Glory Hall is still an emergency shelter.
“We’re still trying to, like, get people in and out to something better as fast as possible,” he said. “But the reality is, it sometimes takes awhile. So we’re allowing people to, like, make themselves at home, a little bit. … Ideally, people are going to be here for like, 6 months or less. But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”
Outside, the grounds still need a lot of work. Patrons can earn a little money picking up trash, volunteer replanting the vegetable garden, even work on the Jordan Creek restoration project.
An empty lot next door will eventually become a social services hub, where it’ll be easy to connect the Glory Hall’s patrons with different agencies that serve them.
“The facility’s really amazing, and I think what it means to me is the ability to provide folks with a space that’s not traumatizing, and that’s beautiful,” said Mariya Lovishchuk, the Glory Hall’s executive director.
She says moving people into the new building is like a dream come true that’s taken years of work from many people in the community. A grand opening event is in the works.
The fate of the building downtown hasn’t been settled. Lovishchuk said the nonprofit is considering selling it. It’s also considering turning the upper floors into affordable apartments, with some other function on the ground floor.