The numbers and visibility of homeless people in Juneau is growing and the issue is firmly in the public’s attention. Causes of homelessness are varied and can include a medical emergency, loss of job or income, substance abuse and mental health issue or a domestic violence incident. Each person has a life story that has resulted in their homelessness, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The wonderful uniqueness of humanity makes homelessness difficult and labor intensive to solve.
Each January, the community participates in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Point in Time Count. 2017’s count showed that 215 people were homeless in Juneau — 59 were unsheltered (sleeping outdoors), 56 stayed in emergency shelters, and 100 were in transitional housing.
The Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness has also conducted more intensive street outreach surveys in 2012, 2015 and 2017. Information from these efforts shows that 87 percent of Juneau’s extremely vulnerable homeless population live here year-round and 75 percent were born, went to school, worked or have family in Juneau. The majority of homeless people in Juneau are Juneau residents; this is an issue the community must face.
Homelessness captures the public’s attention for many reasons. At the core of the community’s response are fundamental questions about the duty and purpose of local government. None of the questions are easy. What level of financial resource is appropriate and sustainable? What is the city’s duty to protect the private property rights of individuals and businesses? What’s the right thing to do?
It’s hard to see homelessness. Homelessness is a human, economic and societal problem — one that the entire nation is struggling with. The good news is that the Juneau Housing First Collaborative Housing First project is set to open soon. But, it will only serve 32 of the 97 people surveyed during the latest round of street outreach efforts.
A campground has seized the public’s attention as a potential solution. But the community must ask itself — which part of Juneau’s homeless population would it serve? It’s likely not the people who are numbers 33 and up on the Housing First list and in need of permanent supportive housing to overcome their complex needs.
The Assembly Task Force on Homelessness, in conjunction with the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, is working on ideas that may help address the issues. The best of the ideas are labor intensive and will require resources and collaboration to target the individuals with the most complex needs. The Task Force plans to make recommendations to the Assembly within the next month.
(This is written by the City Manager’s office and originally appeared in the September 1, 2017 Juneau Empire in a segment called, “City Corner”)