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What others say: What to do about Juneau's downtown

Posted: July 22, 2014 - 3:03pm

Juneau, we have a problem.

That’s the shared sentiment of many business owners, employees and residents in regard to the state of downtown Juneau.

A short documentary filmed by Pat Race — and paid for by Senate building owner Bruce Denton — captured what many residents see on a daily basis and what others try and turn away from: public inebriation, littered sidewalks, smoldering cigarette butt receptacles and dilapidated structures.

Most residents have seen one or more of these, but the documentary — shown to small, select groups at the Gold Town Nickelodeon in recent weeks — allowed viewers to see Juneau through the same, unfiltered lens. Members of the Juneau Empire’s editorial board and Capital City Weekly staff were given a private screening as well.

It’s evident from the images in the documentary and interviews seen in the film (and conducted by us) that downtown Juneau has problems. Some can be addressed with a broom and dustpan, others with a fresh coat of paint, but most are severe and involve obnoxious behavior and a lost sense of safety that can’t be easily regained.

Denton and Race kept their viewing audiences small and by invitation only because they don’t want to paint Juneau in a negative light. They love this city, as do the majority of people who call Juneau home, but when downtown stores start closing shop early and employees consider quitting because they’re harassed on the sidewalks, something must be done. What that something is, however, will be for civic leaders and the community to decide.

Denton, Race and many others are trying to tackle the issue through community discussions, outreach and an open exchange of dialogue. Some ideas to deal with public intoxication and vagrancy range from more resources directed to mental health issues to creating a wet shelter where drinking is allowed.

Members of the Empire’s editorial board are reserving judgment for now as to what can and should be done. We hope others in the community will do the same.

Now is the time for a free exchange of ideas and open dialogue to weigh all available options and find solutions that are both economically feasible and socially acceptable. Much of Juneau’s homeless problem is connected to mental health and chemical dependency issues. They won’t be fixed with a one-size-fits-all approach.

However, acknowledging we have a problem is the first step. Keeping open minds and open hearts while looking for answers is the next.

... We’d like to hear from all of you — business owners and employees, residents and city leaders, mental health advocates and those experiencing homelessness — about your idea. If you want to get involved in a physical way, there’s an opportunity for all residents to make a difference during a community clean-up effort at 8 a.m. July 25.

We may not be able to fix all of downtown Juneau’s problems immediately, but cleaning our streets will be a good first step.

— Juneau Empire,

July 16

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