Juneau Assembly sticks with plan to relocate city-run homeless camp

a campground
A Goldbelt Tram car rises up Mount Roberts above the Mill Campground in August, 2023. (Clarise Larson for the Juneau Empire)

The City and Borough of Juneau is moving forward with a plan to relocate its seasonal campground to a different site farther from downtown, despite nearby business owners’ concerns. 

According to Mayor Beth Weldon, the Assembly is tasked with finding an option that is “the best of the very, very worst.” 

City officials proposed the plan to move the city-run campground for people experiencing homelessness last month, citing an increase in illegal activities there last summer. 

The new location is next to the city’s indoor cold weather shelter, in an area mostly populated by commercial businesses by the port. City officials say moving there would make it easier to provide maintenance and emergency services to campers and would ease the campground’s impact on nearby neighborhoods.

But last week, a group of business owners nearby wrote a joint letter in opposition of the plan. 

Kyle McDonnell with Alaska Coach Tours testified at Monday’s Juneau Assembly meeting. He said the city’s proposed location would put commercial businesses at risk of vandalism, break-ins and other criminal activities he said were associated with the indoor cold weather shelter.

“I recognize the difficult position the Assembly is in right now, and I recognize there are no easy solutions. We’ve seen it all winter long with break-ins in the buses, destruction of equipment and garbage scattered all around our property including used needles,” he said. “Putting this camp right in the middle of an industrial-zoned area, full of local businesses, is not ideal for anyone.” 

He and the group proposed a different location even farther down Thane Road called the Little Rock Dump, which is owned by Docks and Harbor. The group said moving the campground farther down Thane would be safer for both businesses and campers. 

But resident Kiernan Riley opposes the move. They’re concerned that the Little Rock Dump is too far away for campground users to walk to.

“Pushing the Mill campground to Thane, with no way to access it, will make it just that — inaccessible,” Riley said. “Without a shuttle, there’s not a lot of incentivization to walk all the way out the road to a tent when you can put that tent somewhere else that’s more accessible to Foodland or to other resources to get food.”

City officials said the city just does not have enough staff to shuttle people to and from the campground. 

The Assembly voted to move forward with the plan to move the campground next to the cold weather shelter for now. But multiple members said they have concerns. A final decision will likely come at the April 29 Assembly meeting. 

In the meantime, the cold weather shelter is set to close on April 15.

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