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Walter Gregg; P.O. Box 21693; Juneau, AK 99802; [Snipped Email] [Snipped Phone]

Members of the Assembly, Mayor, and City Manager of Juneau; 155 S Seward Street; Juneau, AK 99801 (Hand delivered)

Homelessness in Juneau

Dear Readers:

January 2017. Before you take any decisions regarding our homeless, please review Lisle Hebert's 30 minute film 'Crazy', which is set in Juneau. It's available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oOaSxA5sVw. To carry out your duty of representation of the homeless, the mentally ill, and the addict, I think it's important that you be reminded that what you take for granted, they can't. The film captures this very well.

I oppose the proposal to bar camping on downtown private property and force the disabled to move to a Hooverville in an avalanche zone. The CBJ has turned its back on these citizens for far too long, and this is a step too far. It's just indefensible. I am no expert, but I'd like to point out a few of the failures that are obvious even to me.


Juneau city hall restrooms now closed 4:30 p.m. and all weekend. Juneau business restrooms are often barred to everyone. Juneau contractor porta potties are off limits to the homeless.

City Hall restrooms served tourists until about 9:00 p.m. 7 days a week but when the last ship sailed they were barred to the homeless at 4:30 p.m. and all weekend. The transit center is open longer but you wouldn't know that from the signage. Many private businesses are antisocial about their restrooms. Even the city tour dock contractors put their taxpayer-paid porta potty in a secured area barred to the homeless.

It is disingenuous to complain about human waste when the homeless have nowhere to go. Some have conditions of release barring entrance to a licensed establishment. Some have a no trespass letter at the shelter. Many will need a place to go after the bars close. Do you really have a valid complaint about the mess when there are no public facilities? The no restroom/closed signs might just as well say 'tourists and elites only -- all others pee out back'. And then we give people a criminal record for going in public.

A city that cared about its citizens would do whatever it takes to keep a restroom open for reasonable hours. A neighbor suggested that the city might minimize costs by contacting a service organization to act as bouncers. The Latter Day Saints come to mind. Are there liability concerns? Sure. So solve them. That's what you're there for.

If you want to know why human waste is being left behind, look in the mirror. A minimum of 13 hours of no service every day. Denial of the most fundamental public service and dignity to the most vulnerable -- the mentally ill, and those in the grip of addiction. Addiction is a devastating disease and nationally treatment averages some $25,000 for 28 days. That is completely out of reach of these folks. We're too cheap to even provide a single porta-potty for the homeless and mentally ill and you wonder why there is a problem?

Public Safety Payphones

Juneau Library and Parking Garage Pay Phone. City Hall Pay Phones. Marine Park Payphones. Miners Cove Payphones.

Many homeless don't have a working cell phone, yet all 13 of these city-subsidized pay phones were disconnected at the end of the tour season.

Cell phones are no substitute for public safety pay phones. When a cell goes dead on the street at night, you can't recharge it. After the bars close, if you're alone, you can't reach 911. And some can't get lifeline cell service. A GCI representative was almost apologetic because the rules are impossible for many of the homeless to meet.

It requires photo ID that Alaska won't issue to an unrepresented homeless person; plus proof of poverty. An attorney runs $150 to $300 an hour. And you must prove that you are not homeless with a rental or mortgage document; a utility bill or employer letter or paystub with your name and address; or a canceled check. Without government issued photo ID, per INS rules employment is barred; per IRS rules a bank account is barred; per federal security rules access to the social security office to get the required proof of number is barred; and per state rules, obtaining the required certified birth certificate is barred. A friend's address won't do; the document must show your name. You can't use a P.O. Box either. Who could navigate this minefield without an attorney? And then you must provide proof of poverty, such as a copy of that income tax return you didn't file because you didn't have any. And none of this is proof of anything other than the ability of a rat to navigate a maze.

Nationally, over half of the folks experiencing homelessness have been denied public assistance for want of government issued photo ID. Please read the report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, Photo Identification Barriers Faced by Homeless Persons (2009) www.nlchp.org/documents/ID_Barriers (24 page PDF, 135k). It's a real problem.

If you want to know why the homeless can't help themselves, look in the mirror. Then do something about it. GCI's tariff for a pay phone line with fraud protection and the AK universal service charge is under $30.00 a month. The Regulatory Commission of Alaska told me that a CBJ filing for certification would be free, with no publication requirement for 1-2 phones, and likely a public interest pay phone subsidy which we already pay for through the universal service tax on our bills.

For the Homeless, Even the Trivial is Impossible

Instant Soup. Just add boiling water.
We often provide every appearance of assistance short of help. This was brought home to me one night when two homeless men asked a local store for hot water for instant soup. The answer was no. Quite a contrast from Tiny Glass, who decades ago offered the homeless a free meal at the pancake house once they were presentable.

Do you want to know why there is a problem with homelessness? Look in the mirror. And think about putting in one of those old fashioned wall dispensers of hot water for coffee, accessible from the outdoors. It could go right next to the pay phones, so it too can be disconnected when the tourists leave town.

Camping Area

Avalanche: Duane Gifford's last day, Feb. 1974, Thane Road, Juneau. Juneau Tour Hawking Stalls. InterShelter Emergency Housing.

This avalanche brought death. It was in February, 1974. Duane Gifford, a state employee clearing Thane Road, was killed. The powder blast hurled his bulldozer some 300 feet. In view of this history, to even propose to force homeless people to move to a Hooverville in an active avalanche zone is unconscionable. (Photo from juneau.org/avalanche/historic.php.)

It will not help the capital stay in Juneau if we end up in the news because an avalanche sweeps homeless people away. Yes, there are probably people camped in harm's way right now. But it's indefensible public policy to encourage it.

If we must deal with doorway camping instantly, how about equipping the tour hawk stalls, pictured nearby, with canvas siding and letting people camp there with the city's blessing? At least it would not force people into harm's way.

A better way would be to buy some InterShelters, pictured nearby, anchor them to the tour dock, and let the homeless use them for the winter. They're made in Southeast Alaska. Taken down they fit in the back of a pickup. Assembled, they shelter four. For $9,500 you can shelter four people for three months, instead of $9,500 for one person for one night at the E.R. Four units could shelter 16 people this winter -- outside the avalanche zone. The First Assembly of God in Hawaii is buying these to provide immediate help for some of their homeless. Why can't the CBJ do the same? (Photo from InterShelter.com.)

If you want to know why some homeless people lack a sense of self-worth, look in the mirror. Look at what you are proposing: forcing people to camp in an avalanche zone because people fear them, revile them, and want to cast them out as evil. What does that say about how we are judging the worth of others?


Walking with the dog I often run into homeless people. Many like to pay attention to her. Sometimes they want to tell their story, most of which is over my head. But at the end, they say thank you for listening or letting me hold your dog. That's all it takes to make a difference. Sure, these may be the same folks left an awful mess in the door way or made it seem or actually be unsafe. But when a child is naked in the Taku wind, you cannot turn your back. When did it become acceptable to do treat a disabled adult differently? I think there are things you can do to make things better. A camping site in an avalanche zone is not one of them.

Consider directing the City Manager to ensure that the CBJ itself offers the most basic public services to street people. Restrooms, telephone, and hot water available outside a shelter would seem to be essential.

Consider an alternative -- any alternative -- to moving people into an avalanche zone. That includes the no-action alternative.

Consider asking for statutory authority to impose a blight tax. There is a blight on the downtown, but it isn't the homeless. It's the shuttered businesses. The answer isn't to deputize the police to act as bouncers on behalf of those carpetbaggers. It's to ask for authority to charge them for their absence and reward them for the presence. It might be an interesting experiment, within the downtown corridor, to impose a property tax penalty of two to nine times normal for 6 months absence, and a reward of half the normal tax for presence. If the homeless have to be rats in a maze, its only fair to put the absent businesses into a regulatory maze as well.

Consider asking the human rights commission to investigate whether recent evictions have been in full conformance with the landlord tenant act and policies of non-discrimination. I'm told that one downtown property is up to 15 vacant apartments following a whole string of evictions. That could easily equate to as many as 60 newly homeless people. Isn't that worth investigating?

Seek out the homeless and ask them if any of my concerns have merit. I'm no expert. Things that leap out to me as huge may be quite peripheral to real needs. Still, I am compelled to offer up my thoughts because my intuitive reaction is that the mayor's proposal will actually harm people in immediate need of adult protective services. You are supposed to represent the homeless, but many are not competent to seek you out. Thus you should to seek them out and get their views before you take any decisions. Thank you.


/s/ Hand delivered January 8.

Walter M. Gregg

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