There is an Action Alert associated with this article. Please note this issue has not been raised in a meeting, so the Tongass Democrats have not taken an official stance on it. The following views are my own.
The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly is voting on a “No Camping” ordinance tomorrow night. Ordinance 2016-44 would give JPD the power to fine people who are “camping” on private property, even if the property owner has not filed a complaint. It also allows police to cite the person with disorderly conduct if they fail to leave the premises after they are fined.
Mayor Ken Koeslch stated that he wrote the ordinance in consultation with the business and police communities. The links I read to form my opinion are down the page, and I did not see a claim in any of them from Mr. Koelsch that he sought out any input from other groups. This is unfortunate as Juneau has a Homeless Coalition that brings together parties involved with housing issues.
They are still people
The thing is, people who are sleeping in doorways are not having a good time and singing campfire songs. No one wants to be sleeping outside when temperatures drop. These people are desperate, and they have nowhere else to go. Fining and arresting them doesn’t mean they won’t be out “camping” the next night, and the next … because they don’t have anywhere else to go.
Some of these people might have mental health, substance abuse, anger, or other issues that prevent them from being sheltered at the Glory Hole. But, first and foremost, they are people, regardless of their burdens. Can you imagine what a person’s choices must be to make sleeping outside in this weather their best option?
Advocates for the ordinance have said that it is a piece of a larger effort that includes assistance for the homeless. Yes, Housing First and Family Promise are coming, but it’s 17 degrees out there right now, and this ordinance will roust people from the limited shelter of doorways long before these other options are available.
In a My Turn article at the Juneau Empire, former bank vice president Win Gruening talked about the issue of homelessness by alluding to violence, theft, and the fear of residents who have to walk the streets at night. These are real concerns, and people have a right to be safe.
In his letter, Mr. Gruening talks about how these homeless, nowadays, are worse than the old homeless that we used to have. They are young, and aggressive, and use scary drugs like heroin and meth.
Frankly, the language of proponents reminds me of the 80’s: does anyone else remember “superpredators” and how crack cocaine was the worst drug ever? It was fearmongering then, and I can’t help but think it’s fearmongering now.
Violence and theft are already crimes; not far below the surface, this ordinance looks to me like it is about removing undesirables from view.
The current ordinance is a knee-jerk response to a difficult issue, and it should be permanently shelved. As a community, we can come up with a better response: one that supports downtown residents, the vulnerable, police officers, shelters, and property owners without criminalizing homelessness.
For more information, check these links:
- Ordinance 2016-44 is a .pdf document linked to this page; when you click it, it will download: http://packet.cbjak.org/CoverSheet.aspx?ItemID=3547&MeetingID=329
Hiding the homeless so that downtown residents, business owners, and visitors don’t have to look at them is not a real answer. Fining the destitute for having nowhere to go is not a real answer.
Let the Assembly know that you are watching, and tell them this isn’t the right solution. Tell them that Juneau can come up with a better idea that respects human dignity.
Want to work on homelessness in Juneau beyond emailing the Assembly members about this ordinance? Here is a list of the member organizations of the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness. From this page, it’s clear they don’t have a lot of resources for public outreach, so it’s up to you to take the extra step and find a place to volunteer or give.
In the meantime, click here for the Action Alert on this bad ordinance.