CBJ Assembly meeting features mass public comment on proposed camping ordinance

    JUNEAU, Alaska (KINY)- The regular CBJ Assembly meeting on Monday night didn't feature any action on the proposed ordinance to ban camping in the downtown Juneau area, but a large portion of the meeting's time was spent discussing the potential implications of its passage.

    When it came time for discussion of non-agenda items, multiple members of the public signed up to discuss how the law would affect Juneau's homeless. One woman spoke about an attempted forced entry into her home, and how it made her reflect on the state of the community at large.

    "We had someone try to get into the house in the middle of the night. As you can imagine, that was very scary. And yet, I look at the video, and it's a young kid who's a part of my community, too. I'm worried about my family, I'm worried about my neighborhood, and I'm worried about the young men and women who are making these choices, because it's scary for all of us. I realize we have limited resources, but I need more information to know what the city is doing to address the root causes of these issues; what are we doing about mental health, what are we doing about addiction, and what are we doing about homelessness?"

    Mandy Cole, Chair of the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, talked about the choices Juneau's homeless are forced to make, as opposed to what most of us choose of our own accord.

    "I want to take one second and talk about what real choice means. I forgot my coat, so I'm going to have to walk to my car without it. It's going to be cold, and it's going to be uncomfortable. I think the idea of staying in a doorway in this weather is not a real choice. What I mean by that is that many of us who have some security and stability in our lives, who are free from substances, and who have no or minimal mental illness, we think of choice in way that other people experiencing those challenges don't think of it. I want to challenge you to take your heart out of the seat you're sitting in now and imagine a life where you can't make the kind of choices that we make on a daily basis, and then think about what you need to be able to make those choices. I tell my staff at AWARE every day that we will try 100 different ways to reach out to someone; we will try it every day until someone finds a way to connect. And, I really encourage you to take that message home."

    A Juneau man shared his own story of homelessness, detailing how he feels the organization is failing those it sets out to serve.

    "I stay at the shelter. I've seen people thrown out for almost no reason. I've seen a real rise of homeless on the street because of these new rules that they're making. As an example, you're allowed a stay of sixty days at the Glory Hole, and then at that time, you're offered the choice to enter their PATH program. However, they pick and choose who's allowed to enter their program. I think everybody should have a chance to do that. If you try and say anything to the staff, you're immediately out, and then you're on the sidewalk. There's nowhere to really go from there, per se; if you get off the sidewalk, well, then you're in the snow."

    The proposed camping ordinance is scheduled for public hearing and a subsequent Assembly vote on Monday, January 23rd.

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