- Associated Press - Friday, December 23, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - Juneau Mayor Ken Koelsch is pushing to get an ordinance approved that would allow authorities to remove homeless people camping in the entryways of downtown businesses without permission.

The ordinance will go before the Juneau Assembly on Jan. 9 and get a public hearing two weeks later. Koelsch had the measure drafted earlier this month after establishing an “ad hoc committee on homelessness” comprised of several business owners, city officials and a police officer, The Juneau Empire reported (https://bit.ly/2hiCXC3).

Phil Wheeler, owner of the Alaskan Fudge Company, said homeless people camping in entryways has hurt business. He said he hasn’t actually seen people camping in front of his shop, but that he sees campers outside of other downtown businesses and that they leave behind garbage, blankets “and everything else.”

“I can’t see how any business downtown hasn’t been negatively impacted by camping,” Wheeler said. “People don’t want to come downtown because of it.”

While some see the ordinance as a solution, others say the city should instead focus its efforts on providing more housing options for homeless people.

One of those options, Juneau’s Housing First Project, isn’t set to open until this summer. Brian Wilson, executive director of the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, said the city approving the ordinance before the project gets up and running would force people to move on without a place to go.

While there is a homeless shelter in the downtown area, residents are required to be sober if they want to stay there.

“I would really hope to see that if the Assembly does move forward with this ordinance, it’s contingent upon the opening of additional shelters with low barriers to entry,” Wilson said. “Otherwise, where do these people go? That’s the big question, and I think it’s a logical question to ask.”

But for Koelsch, who called the matter a crisis, the time to act is now.

“We’ve been dealing with the homeless and the vandalism and the aggressiveness that’s being displayed, and we can wait until Juneau when Housing First opens up and hope that solves our problem or we can deal with it now,” he said. “Right now, as far as I’m concerned, it’s full steam ahead.”

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, https://www.juneauempire.com


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