JUNEAU - Gloria Ann Phillips, 61, died Tuesday, March 20th, 2012 in Juneau, the state capital and second-largest city in Alaska. Her body was found in the place she'd called home for the past five years, reported Emily Miller of The Empire (, on a mattress in a crawl space beneath the Gold Creek bridge.

She was, said Miller, one of the city's "estimated 500-plus homeless" and may have been "the most vulnerable of them all."

Family had urged her to come in off the streets, She refused, Miller noted, "too independent, too free" and not wanting "to be a burden." When she did give it a try at the Juneau Cooperative Christian Ministry's Glory Hole, one of the local programs for the homeless it didn't work. A chronic inebriate, she couldn't abide the no-alcohol-rule then common across homeless programs in the city.

The week after her death coincidentally, staff and volunteers from the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness conducted its first "vulnerability index survey." Like hundreds of other communities, every two years Juneau conducts a "point-in-time" count of their homeless. It answers some pretty basic and important questions that help better match the services communities provide to the range of needs their homeless have.

The Coalition's survey digs deeper, offering a more comprehensive look at Juneau's most vulnerable homeless, those like Gloria who, said one social worker, "had no place to go." A second survey was conducted in September, 2015, its results ( mirroring those from 2012. Forty of the 69 homeless people interviewed scored 1 or higher on the Index indicating that they were "highly vulnerability" and up to 40 percent more likely, said The Empire, "to die on the street."

Compared to the non-vulnerable, it found, the highly-vulnerable were two times more likely to have been treated for a mental illness, three times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol - or both - on a daily basis, three times as likely to have recently visited an emergency room and twice as likely to have been jailed and 14 times more likely to be experiencing tri-morbidity - i.e., having a history of mental illness, substance abuse and some other major health concern.

The results, observed The Empire ( "lit a fire," under a vision the Coalition had first had six years earlier - developing low-threshold, safe and secure housing with "no strings attached to give the person a chance to stabilize." Better they drink on the premises than freeze to death on the streets.

When she'd first heard the idea, Glory Hole executive director Mariya Lovischuk told KTOO (, "I thought this is such a ridiculous idea this will never work and I'm philosophically actually opposed to it."

Skeptical, she visited Seattle's Downtown Emergency Service Center, one of the nation's first Housing First facilities. "It really took seeing how it works to realize when someone is in constant crisis and has been on the street for 12 years. You can't just expect them to go to rehab." First and foremost, they need a roof over their heads.

It's working, not just in Seattle but Anchorage and Fairbanks too, helping the most vulnerable to stabilize. Many will cut back, even stop drinking. They require fewer 911 responses, make fewer visits to emergency rooms, spend fewer nights in jail, demand less in taxpayer-supported services. Best of all, stabilized they can get on with the rest of their lives.

And now it will go work in Juneau. With funding and support from private donors, the Tlingit and Haida Tribes, the City and Borough of Juneau, the State, Alaska Housing Finance, the, Rasmuson Foundation, and, in May, 2016 the Juneau Housing First Collaborative broke ground an empty lot donated by the Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority for Allen Court (, 42 units of low threshold housing.

Build it and they - those living on the streets, in the woods or under the bridges of Juneau - will come to Allen Court, a place to call home, to stabilize, to take back their lives. The bad news is that its doors did not open soon enough to save Gloria Anne Phillip's life. The good news is that in Juneau it need never happen to anyone else.


Content Archived: January 8, 2018