Juneau’s Housing First prepares to open its doors

Juneau’s Housing First project is opening its doors this week to the first eight residents. The $8.3 million Lemon Creek complex will soon house 32 of the community’s most vulnerable residents.

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The 32 apartments in the Housing First building are basic, almost institutional with low, single beds. But then there are the little touches that show how much community support has gone into the project.

The Gold Street Quilters donated 32 handmade quilts with the names of each resident embroidered inside.

The Juneau Housing First building. Taken Sept. 19, 2017, right before the facility opened. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

“Every unit gets a quilt and every quilt says who it’s for and their name and they’re all pretty awesome,” Mariya Lovishchuk said as she led a tour. She runs the Glory Hole downtown shelter and soup kitchen and has been project’s manager.

Similar facilities already exist in Anchorage and Fairbanks. It starts as no-strings housing for homeless people.

“The idea is just having housing, nice housing, in itself is a stabilizing force in people’s lives,” Lovishchuk said. “And what we know from other projects is that even though people don’t have to participate in services, they participate a lot more than when they have to do it as a condition of something.”

Essential services from medical care to counseling are available. There’s also a clinic downstairs to be completed. A physician’s assistant will be on site for urgent care. Mental health services will also be offered.

The Juneau Assembly has provided $2.7 million in public money to help finance the project. Other donors followed. Businesses provided in-kind services and materials.

Tenants pay rent on a sliding scale.

“You pay 30 percent of your income to rent and it gets reassessed every month by the landlord,” Lovishchuk explained. “So if your income is zero then your rent is zero. But if your income is $1,100 a month then you pay 30 percent of that.”

And, the thinking goes, as people become settled, productivity increases.

“And actually in the idea is that in this project is that people come in with very little income initially but once they stabilize they do bring more income in, their income increases,” Lovishchuk said.

So will it work?

Common area in the Juneau Housing First building. Taken September 19, 2017 right before the facility opened. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

“We want to do an evaluation of the program and demonstrate of benefits of Housing First in Juneau,” Jeanette Lacey said. She’s Bartlett Regional Hospital’s lead social worker and a Housing First board member. Lacey will also be working with researchers from University of Alaska Fairbanks which will be using this as a case study.

“The Housing First program in Juneau has obviously learned from the lessons of other programs throughout the nation and so what we’ve tried to do with our program is to take what’s been working and try to redesign some things that maybe didn’t go as well,” Lacey said. “So we want to just evaluate the process that we have here and also have something to give back to the community to demonstrate what we’re seeing as outcomes of the project.”

Dacia Davis is the newly hired program director who will oversee the complex’s eight staffers. She brings with her 14 years of experience in social work.

“I see it as a learning experience and we’re going to grow a lot this year,” Davis said. “And just every day kind of adjust and be flexible and meet the needs of the program and the tenants.”

The first 10 residents are set to move in in the next week. Organizers hope it’ll be quiet affair and under the radar as people settle in. Batches of 10 residents will move in every 10-14 days until all 32 apartments are filled.

Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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