Repairs are underway but will take at least a month to complete. In the meantime, various churches and other community institutions are scheduled to provide meals, beds and dry shelter during the day. The members of the Juneau community can always be relied upon to respond generously in an emergency like this one.
Homelessness in our community is a complicated problem with no easy solutions. There continues to be a shortage of affordable housing for low-income people in Juneau. Many of those who are chronically homeless struggle with the effects of mental illness and/or addiction to alcohol and drugs, or with other health problems. Groups such as the Glory Hole, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness and others have been working with the city and the state to find the resources and land to build additional affordable housing.
For the past two years, these same groups have been promoting what is known as ‘Housing First,” an approach to help alleviate the persistent problems of men and women who are chronically homeless. Although not a panacea, this approach has had successes in Anchorage, Fairbanks and other communities around the country. It’s a simple idea, actually: If chronically homeless people have a place to call home that is permanent and stable, it is then possible to begin to address the other problems and challenges they face in their lives.
As necessary and deserving of our support as these initiatives on behalf of the homeless are, the sudden closure of the Glory Hole is an opportunity for each of us personally to grow in the virtue of solidarity and love for the poor and those in need. So much of what we take for granted each day is a daily struggle for our friends, neighbors and family members who are living on the street. We have seen this with particular clarity this past week with the temporary loss of the shelter provided by the Glory Hole and the urgent needs of those who rely on its various ministries.
It is wonderful to hear of the generous support shown to the Glory Hole and its residents this past week. The shelter has many needs but is asking primarily for financial donations at this time. Also needed are coffee and tea — which is clearly understood during these cold days. But since there is no storage space at the Glory Hole site while repairs are being made, you can bring your donations of coffee and tea to either the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary downtown or St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in the Mendenhall Valley, and we will facilitate getting the items to the sites providing the temporary meals and shelter.
The generosity of so many in our community is a reminder to me of one of the key principles of Catholic social teaching: the preferential love of the poor and those in need. This means not only our obligation in justice and in charity to help the poor, but evaluating our choices and decisions in light of how they affect the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society. For example, it came to my attention that our city bus service is in the process of determining changes to it’s bus routes, it’s frequency of service and the pick-up/drop-off points around Juneau. It is my hope that changes like these would not only be determined by what is most economical and efficient, but also by how they serve the needs of the poor and those who rely on the bus system to get them to work, to the doctor, to the store and to participate in the life of the community.
In this, as in so many decisions and choices we make in our community and in society, the first and primary question we need to ask ourselves is how will this benefit or harm the poor, for the moral measure of any civilization is how it provides and serves those who are in need and most vulnerable.