Neighbors Aim to Take Concerns Over Halfway House to Court in Juneau

A Juneau neighborhood association is taking its fight against a transitional home for just-released female inmates to court, after exhausting all of its municipal appeal options.

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Signs protesting Haven House’s location can be seen all over the Malissa Drive area, even in front of Haven House. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Signs protesting Haven House’s location can be seen all over the Malissa Drive area, even in front of Haven House. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Haven House can continue operating on Malissa Drive in the Mendenhall Valley for now.

The Juneau Assembly denied the Tall Timbers Neighborhood Association’s appeal Monday, upholding the planning commission’s decision to allow permitting for Haven House.

“My clients intend to appeal that decision to the Superior Court,” says attorney Dan Bruce, who represents the neighborhood association.

He wants the state court to overturn the city’s decision. Bruce and his clients continue to argue that Haven House is a halfway house, which under city code, isn’t allowed in typical residential districts, like the area around Malissa Drive.

“Haven House is the only non-single family use in that whole neighborhood,” Bruce says.

Bruce says the home will lower property values and have an adverse effect on the neighborhood. He hopes the legal fight will shut the house down.

Haven House Director Kara Nelson says she isn’t surprised. In the beginning of the Tall Timbers’ protest, she says she took it personally. Nelson herself has been in prison and struggled with addiction. She’s been sober since 2011. Now, she sees the fight as an opportunity.

“It really brings a good challenge for those of us that have been in prison to really show what we know, and that is what we’re being perceived as is not true when we’re living in long-term recovery,” Nelson says.

Haven House is a faith-based non-profit. It provides a structured living situation where residents have to come up with an individual action plan and get the support to follow it through. They must attend some sort of women’s support, recovery or Bible group. Haven House can accept up to nine women transitioning out of prison who can live there for up to two years.

Nelson says the Tall Timbers’ perception of what Haven House will do to the neighborhood is an example of the stigma Haven House residents face on a daily basis.

“We’re not going to be ashamed,” Nelson says. “We’re not dismissing the crimes that have been committed, but what we’re saying is addiction is a disease and so we’re focusing on the solution. The solution is long-term recovery and to do that you surround yourself with other people who have done it before you.”

Nelson says it’s been a long journey to get Haven House going and she says an appeal at the Superior Court level is just another step.