With building set for demolition, future of Juneau’s cold weather shelter unclear

Juneau’s cold weather emergency shelter has closed for the season, and the city isn’t sure if it will return next winter.

This was the second winter the city operated the overnight shelter when the temperature dipped below freezing. Initial numbers suggest the shelter saw even more users this winter.

It opened for the winter in mid-November and served 179 individuals total — 21 more people than last winter.

According to Housing and Homelessness Services Coordinator Irene Gallion, the 36-bed shelter opened for a total of 79 nights.

Gallion said they’re still waiting on data from January’s annual nationwide homeless countto determine what the need will be next winter.

“It’s been very popular,” Gallion said. “It looks like providers and the (Juneau) Assembly members are interested in providing it next year. We just have to look at the data to see if it’s warranted.”

The number of homeless in Juneau has grown in recent years.

Last year’s count found Juneau had 235 homeless people, a 20-person increase from 2017.

The opening of Housing First in 2017 brought down the number of unsheltered homeless people in Juneau, and providers hope to double that number with the construction of a new wing in the supportive housing complex.

While Housing First is a long-term way of addressing homelessness, the cold weather shelter offers a short-term solution by giving people a warmer alternative to sleeping outside.

The city appropriated $75,000 for operations this winter, along with a $30,000 grant from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.

The Mental Health Trust also sold the building — the former Alaska Department of Public Safety building on Whittier Avenue — to the city last year.

Juneau’s cold weather emergency shelter is in the old Alaska Department of Public Safety Building on Whittier Avenue, pictured here on Dec. 2, 2017, the day after the shelter first opened. (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

The aging former Public Safety building that has been housing the shelter is going to be demolished and replaced with a parking lot this summer. The city has to look for alternatives if it wants to operate a shelter next winter.

“There’s two ways that could go if we decided to go forward with the shelter. One could be for CBJ to find some space to provide it, the other is to, in our request for proposals, ask the providers to provide space for the shelter,” Gallion said.

The demolition of the old Public Safety building should begin next week. The city expects the new parking lot construction to wrap up by Aug. 1.

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