Juneau’s city-run homeless camp closed for winter, but the warming shelter isn’t open yet

Juneau's Mill campground
Juneau’s Mill Campground on October 14, 2022. (Photo by Claire Stremple/KTOO)

The City and Borough of Juneau closed the Mill Campground on Saturday.

The campground above the cruise ship docks is not for recreation. It’s for people experiencing homelessness in Juneau. It closes for winter every year.

David lived at the campground with his girlfriend. KTOO isn’t using his last name because of the stigma attached to homelessness. He said up to 40 people lived there this summer.

“It’s got its problems,” David said. “But overall, I really do like it.”

He said he knew the closure was coming, but he doesn’t have a plan for where to stay next. Other housing solutions like Juneau’s shelter, The Glory Hall, and the Housing First complex in Lemon Creek don’t work for him — too crowded, he said.

“I stayed in the woods last year,” he said. “For eight months.”

He said last winter the snow got pretty high around their tent and it was really hard to keep things dry.

“We survived. It would have been easy to do if I had a stove and water,” he said.

That’s part of the reason the camp closes. The road up to the Mill Campground isn’t serviced over the winter, so it’s not possible to haul water and service the toilets up there.

“It’s not a park and it’s not recreation,” said Dale Gosnell, a ranger for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which maintains the campground.

On Monday, he was on site cleaning up leftover tarps and other belongings that people didn’t take along when they moved out. He said the city only leases the campground for the summer because the rest of the year it’s too difficult to manage. Plus, he said, it’s dangerous.

“Even camping out in the summer in Southeast Alaska is challenging with all the rain we get,” Gosnell said. “In the winter, it becomes life-threatening, potentially, with cold weather and snow. Tents would collapse under snow weight, potentially.”

The Glory Hall is getting ready for some people from the camp to relocate there.

“We’ve already had a few people come and ask about space here,” said Luke Vroman, the Glory Hall’s deputy director. “And what we tell them is we’re very full, but we’ll do what we can.”

There’s high demand for beds and sleeping spaces in the winter months.

Juneau also has an overnight warming shelter, run by Resurrection Lutheran Church. Its doors don’t open until the temperature starts to dip below freezing.

Brad Perkins helps manage the warming shelter. He said the church is still hiring staff.

The city increased the church’s funding for the program this year, but Perkins said his expenses are going up, too. He has to buy more food at Costco this year because of shortages at local food banks.

The weather should stay in the 40s through next week. Perkins said they will likely open when the weather starts to dip into the mid-30s.

There were nine people still at the Mill Campground on Monday. The Glory Hall picked them up for lunch.

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