J.P. and Chris hang out around Pocket Park most days. They're both from Southeast Alaska - J.P was born at Bartlett and raised in Sitka, and Chris has family in Angoon and Hoonah - and call each other brothers.
On Juneau's streets, homeless need more than a hug 071614 NEWS 2 CAPITAL CITY WEEKLY J.P. and Chris hang out around Pocket Park most days. They're both from Southeast Alaska - J.P was born at Bartlett and raised in Sitka, and Chris has family in Angoon and Hoonah - and call each other brothers.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Story last updated at 7/16/2014 - 4:12 pm

On Juneau's streets, homeless need more than a hug

J.P. and Chris hang out around Pocket Park most days. They're both from Southeast Alaska - J.P was born at Bartlett and raised in Sitka, and Chris has family in Angoon and Hoonah - and call each other brothers.

Both are homeless, though they're in different circumstances. Chris lives in his car. J.P. lives under a bridge.

Chris lost his duplex, clothes and four kids after his ex-wife received a drug indictment, he said.

He also has a job - he earns $25 an hour as a driver, he said, but he's waiting for a tax return to escape homelessness.

J.P. is an alcoholic - during an interview, he went to Alaska Cache Liquor to purchase alcohol but was told the store's computers were down. He wants a job but can't find one, he said.

"I'm a f***ing drunk," he said. "It's the way I is. Not am. I panhandle. It sucks, but I tried to look for a job, but they won't hire me because they know me. ... I'll do housekeeping, dishwashing, I don't give a s***. I just need a job."

J.P. said he receives food stamps but sells them. For food, he relies on sack lunches from the Glory Hole, where he was banned after threatening a man, he said.

"It's never a dull moment," J.P. said. "I've f***ing seen everything down here on South Franklin."

The two had just finished helping a friend into the Rainforest Recovery van when they sat down to talk.

"Some of my friends are drinking hand sanitizer," Chris said. "It probably is (killing them). It is a problem."

At least three people have died since the Juneau Homeless Coalition completed its 2012 vulnerability index, said Scott Ciambor, chairman of the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness.

"People are dying in the street pretty routinely," he said.

dying by the numbers

Nonprofit housing agencies, state and local planners, and social service providers make up the Juneau Homeless Coalition.

Each year, the coalition hosts an event called Project Homeless Connect, which gathers services in one place for those in need. It also does a "point in time" homeless count.

That count can miss those who are most vulnerable, Ciambor said.

In spring 2012, volunteers and coalition members canvassed Juneau in the early morning to talk with homeless people, do surveys and deliver food. Fifty-five unsheltered homeless people completed the surveys, a figure the coalition estimates is about 80 percent of the "most vulnerable" homeless population, those who make up 8 to 10 percent of Juneau's homeless and are three to four times more likely than the average person to die prematurely.

Of those 55 people, 75 percent were born in Juneau, went to school here, worked here, or had family here; more than half are or have been mentally ill; 96 percent have experienced substance abuse; 38 percent are veterans or have been in foster care; 60 percent are Native. Eighty-five percent are chronically homeless; 84 percent have been in jail; 33 percent have been in jail 10 times or more.

Fifty-five percent receive food stamps; 22 percent receive public assistance; 42 percent receive Social Security or disability. More than half work in one way or another (under the table or legally).

The study found those 55 people had been on the street for an average of 9 1/2 years, Ciambor said.

They tend to bounce between service providers - from the Glory Hole, to Polaris House (dedicated to recovery from mental illness), to Rainforest Recovery, to the street, and back to the Glory Hole. No one agency is responsible for them.

Across the country, the average length of time spent homeless is much lower, because people use services and get out of it more quickly, Ciambor said. Those who are chronically homeless need a special intervention.

That intervention may well be permit supportive housing, which will be covered in next week's Capital City Weekly.

Intimidation factors

"You walk downtown here, and every other day you see six black eyes," said Debra Harris, who has been a resident at the Glory Hole since June.

Patrick McKinley, who was born in Juneau and now stays at the Glory Hole, said he and some friends had just paid for two weeks at Thane Campground and were inside a tent July 7 when a man started slashing it with a knife. He says he has no idea what provoked the attack.

"All four of us were scared for our lives," he said. "I'm still kind of in shock."

McKinley fell and injured his arm; it now bears a nasty gash. He spoke to police shortly before this interview, he said, and they now have the knife in question.

He was at the campground because he wanted to mentally prepare for an alcohol treatment program, he said.

"I just wanted to get away from everything and everybody," he said.

Many homeless are just trying to improve their circumstances.

Corey Anselm, who was also in that tent, was born in Pelican and has been a commercial fisherman most of his life. Then he had a bad fall, breaking his neck and his spine, he said. He is still recovering.

"I never thought this would happen to me," he said. "It was a real big step down."

After longlining for halibut and black cod, king crabbing out of Kodiak and Dutch Harbor, and working in other fisheries, he lost his boat and his house when he was injured, he said.

"All I know is fishing," he said. "I'm just concentrating on the medical thing, (trying to) get some of my dignity back."

More bus passes for the homeless would also help, Harris said.

"That's been a real issue for me to get applications in," she said.

Harris lived in Juneau 20 years ago, working at Lemon Creek as a corrections officer, she said. After some time in Arizona and Montana, she returned in June to be with her family. She's been at the Glory Hole since June 18.

Harris said she's an Army veteran. Her son, who is also homeless, is a Navy veteran, she said.

What do you want?

That afternoon at Pocket Park, J.P. called out to people passing by. Sometimes, people stopped and said hello. He said people can also be rude, spitting on him. "We are the best people," he said. "We're kind."

An exchange between him and a friend captures both that sentiment and what people find intimidating: Chris beckoned a friend over. J.P. stood up.

"What the f*** do you want?" he asked her.

"That's sarcasm," Chris explained. "And street talk."

"What the f*** do you want?" J.P. asked again. He stormed toward her.

"A hug," she said.

So they hugged.