Anchorage Representative Geran Tarr (D – Anchorage) sent a scathing email to members of Juneau Assembly, as well as the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, about what she calls “unacceptable human rights and public safety issues downtown.” Tarr sent the 1,400 plus word early this afternoon. She sent it from her personal email, not her legislative email. Tarr represents District 19 in Anchorage, which covers parts of Debarr, Mountain View, and Airport Heights.
In the email, Tarr says members of the Assembly were quick to act to assist the cruise ship and tourism industry but have done little to solve the homelessness, mental health, and addiction issues in Juneau. She wrote, “The wealthy and the well-connected use their access to power to advance policies that benefit the wealthy and well-connected and everyone else gets left behind. The business owners got immediate action from local leaders. The poor people, our neighbors experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and addiction? Not so much.” Tarr also said she has contacted the Juneau Police Department but wrote “they are generally unhelpful and dismissive.”
Juneau Assemblymember Carol Triem was surprised by the email as she said she’s never been directly contacted like that by a legislator. Triem said she has not had a chance to fully review the email yet, but says she plans to later today. Triem added that it’s disappointing for Tarr to criticize the Assembly on these issues when she doubts Tarr is aware of the work they have done and are doing.
When asked for comment about what spawned the email, Tarr said she was frustrated at the quick action the Assembly took to assist the cruise industry while the issues of homelessness, mental health, and drug addiction have not had the same action. Tarr also said that she sent the email as someone who spends much of the year living in Juneau.
At the end, Tarr lists several examples of events she has recently witnessed in Downtown Juneau during the last week. One stated that she was awoken at 4:30 am a few mornings ago to “a person screaming f*uck you at the top of their lungs, running up and down Franklin St.”
Mayor Beth Weldon, who sits on the Assembly, or the city manager were not available for comment.
You can read the full email below.
Subject: unacceptable human rights and public safety issues downtown
EXTERNAL E-MAIL: BE CAUTIOUS WHEN OPENING FILES OR FOLLOWING LINKS
Hello Juneau Leaders –
I am so deeply saddened and disappointed to have to write this email because I know many of you personally and have been really supportive of your work in the past, but the human rights and public safety situation downtown is unacceptable, unbearable, and heartbreaking. It has been getting worse and worse for years now and I have wanted to write this email before, but I always stopped myself because I thought these are complex issues and that you, as the leaders in Juneau, were doing the best you can. Now I know I was wrong to think that.
After witnessing what you all did regarding the cruise ship initiatives I now know what it looks like when the leaders in Juneau care about something. People couldn’t jump fast enough to oppose measures to address quality of life for Juneau residents. Within just days businesses were plastered with flyers, banners everywhere, a new non-profit was formed, and more. In lighting speed there was an effort to oppose this. Meanwhile, these human rights and public safety issues have persisted and only gotten worse.
Why this is so upsetting is witnessing the fundamental problem with government right now. The wealthy and the well-connected use their access to power to advance policies that benefit the wealthy and well-connected and everyone else gets left behind. The business owners got immediate action from local leaders. The poor people, our neighbors experiencing homelessness, mental illness, and addiction? Not so much.
Why are the human rights of our neighbors so unimportant? Why are the mental health, substance misuse, and addiction our neighbors experience not a priority? What about the mental health of hundreds of Juneau residents that live downtown? Why are people who live here so unimportant? How are you supporting children and families to prevent this?
I have looked for and read multiple articles on how the $56 million that came to Juneau was spent. I have read articles about moving the Glory Hall. I’ve asked Juneau friends about these issues. Some say you have given up or are just waiting until the Valley location is built and “homeless people can be hidden away from tourists and business owners.” This is very sad to hear. I see funds were given for building the new facility out by the airport, but what about for the time until that opens? I question how successful this new effort will be since it will isolate people far away from downtown where there is a community of people, near the campground, and where there are stores and bars. Like all people, our neighbors who experience homelessness, mental illness, and addiction need a community of people to belong to and a place where they feel accepted. Can that be replicated at some buildings isolated miles and miles away from others? I will keep an open mind about that, but in the meantime people are suffering.
When I asked colleagues and staff about this it was a flood of stories of difficult, upsetting, and scary situations. Women being followed by intoxicated men, women being confronted in the parking garage leading to a panic attack, and not going out at night because it feels so unsafe. I have had all of those experiences myself.
I have previously called JPD, but they are generally unhelpful and dismissive when you call and that just adds stress to the situation. I only call when I hear violence with physical fights and threats of killing each other and still they are unhelpful and dismissive. It’s very hard to hear people being harmed and the helpless feeling that I can’t do anything to help them. The only thing I really see JPD doing is issuing parking tickets.
At this point what your actions tell me is that Juneau leaders care more about being a six hour stop off for international cruise lines than they do about the quality of life for people who live here. When I talk with colleagues the feeling is that you don’t want Juneau to be the capital city for Alaska. That’s not just because of these issues, but the lack of housing and parking are major issues too since the parking garages also feel unsafe.
As I said, it is with a very heavy heart that I write this email. It’s not that I haven’t experienced these things before. I grew up around violence, mental illness, and addiction. I just can’t believe we can’t do better, especially when $56 million came to Juneau just a year ago. I have been so traumatized by living here. Can’t these issues get at least a fraction of the effort and attention I just saw put into opposing the cruise ship initiatives? I would have went on believing you were doing the best you could and you would have never heard from me, but again, as I said, I now know what it looks like when Juneau leaders want to come together. I hope things will change.
As a sample of what the last week has been like here are some key events and some other notable events from this session.
8:00 am – Violent fight between a man and woman. I know these two because it happens so frequently and it generally results in violence.
5:00 am – A violent fight in the street that lasted for more than 30 minutes. People screaming f*ck you, get the f*ck away from me, other violent and upsetting comments. This was followed by an individual playing electric guitar.
8:00 am – Sounds of a woman being assaulted or sexually assaulted. What I could hear was her screaming get off me, respect my boundaries, etc.
A little later I took my dog for a walk. There were several intoxicated individuals that made comments that made me uncomfortable. Now that it’s daylight out in the morning I feel more safe. Before this I had a rule of not going outside between midnight and 5 am because in the darkness it feels very unsafe.
Down towards the end of the cruise ship dock were two people sleeping on the ground surrounded by empty bottles. They had one of the wheelbarrows holding their few possessions. When I walked back a staff member was putting their belongings on the ground while they continued to sleep. All I could do was tell the woman worker how sad I thought it was. Their possessions are so unimportant they just get moved around while they aren’t even awake. I’m sure it’s her job to do this. Again, a demonstration of how little these individuals are cared about.
At night more intoxicated people on the evening walk. I often see human feces along the dock as I walk my dog.
The night before-
9:30 pm – A woman yelled for more than 30 minutes I’m going to f*ucking kill you over and over. No public safety response. This is not unusual.
A few mornings ago my morning started like this –
4:30 am – Get woke up to the first person screaming f*uck you at the top of their lungs, running up and down Franklin St. No public safety response.
7:30 am – First time I got to hear I’m going to f*cking kill you. That was repeated over and over and then I could hear sounds of bodies slapping together as individuals engaged in a physical fight.
10:15 am – Ambulance arrives. I don’t know what happened, but the public safety response is basically non-existent so I can only imagine this was actually pretty bad.
10:30 am – Back to more fighting and more yelling of I’m going to f*ucking kill you.
This cycle repeats itself day after day and week after week.
Other notable events –
Man bleedeng on the street one morning when I walked out to go to work. I called for emergency services and waited until they arrived. Very, very sad.
Woman passed out on the street in below zero temperatures. I woke her up, called for emergency services, and waited almost an hour for them to arrive. I ended up giving her some of my clothes so she wouldn’t freeze.
Another morning a woman was yelling help me, help me, so I called 911. When I left for work she was still there. I called again and was told someone had come by and she was ok. I don’t understand how that could be true with her laying there saying, help me, help me.