By: Dominique Johnson
“There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are homeless people,” Dan Austin, the General Manager of St. Vincent de Paul shared and, “the same is true of poverty in general” he added.
In Alaska 71,566 people or 9.9% of the state’s population live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey.
Dan Austin shared that the Capital City has the highest homeless population in the state and a homeless rate per capita 3 times that of Los Angeles. Austin explained that the high homeless rates in Juneau can be attributed to many different reasons.
“Some of them are historical, some of them are cultural, and we cannot escape the fact that we are an island, making us dependent on our own resources.”
To help combat homelessness St. Vincent de Paul of Juneau has five properties that serve as housing for the homeless, low-income families and low-income seniors.
St. Vincent de Paul also serves those in the community with direct aid to individuals and families. The aid includes, “Food aid, rental assistance, utility assistance, help with medical bills, just about any direct aid people need to get over a bump in the road,” Austin said.
In total, Austin said, the St. Vincent de Paul Society provides assistance with housing and direct aid to about 1,200 unduplicated persons a year.
The aid that is offered is available to anyone in the community who needs the assistance, “Unlike many agencies, we don’t target one particular group or need. Everybody and anybody in the community that needs help is welcome,” Austin shared. He added, “The St. Vincent de Paul Society, which is almost 200 years old, is just an instrument,” to continue the mission set out by St. Vincent de Paul.
Austin said that though homeless and poverty rates haven’t gone down over the past 20 years, he is optimistic about the future because of what he’s seen in the community. “Citizens as well as the policy makers have begun to realize that homelessness is a local issue,” and we shouldn’t rely on government agencies to end poverty. He continued saying “the community has realized that if we are going to solve the problem, we have to own the problem,” and come up with innovative ideas to make a difference.
One of the innovative ideas Austin mentions that has come to fruition in Juneau was the opening of Forget-Me-Not Manor, a project of the Juneau Housing First Collaborative, this past fall. St. Vincent de Paul of Juneau serves as property manager for the residence.
The development offers subsidized housing, “for the most vulnerable of the street homeless,” Austin said. Forget-Me-Not Manor has 32 units and helps, “Those living on the streets of Juneau who are the most likely to die on the streets, if they don’t get into a shelter and receive supportive services.”
Austin emphasized, that though Forget-Me-Not Manor is a step in the right direction to helping the homeless in Juneau, “The 32 residents of that facility only represent about 10 percent of the total homeless population in Juneau.”
To continue serving those in need in the community St. Vincent de Paul of Juneau asks for continued support from community members whether it’s through volunteering, donations or shopping at the thrift store.
There are a few different ways people can volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul Austin shared, “We have volunteers who connect directly with the people in our shelters, or with people in the community,” with programs like their Thanksgiving food basket delivery and the Adopt-A-Family program at Christmas.
Unlike many social service agencies St. Vincent de Paul doesn’t rely on government grants. “Our economic engine is basically our thrift store,” Austin said. He added that “When you spend a dollar in our thrift store you can be assured that about 65 cents of that is going to direct aid to families in need.”
To learn more about volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul or if you are in need of services they offer please call (907)789-5535. The St. Vincent de Paul thrift store is located at 8617 Teal St. in Juneau and open Monday-Saturday 10 AM-5PM.