Memories of the Juneau Youth Hostel
I was not involved in starting the Juneau Youth Hostel, but I played a large role in saving it.
When I was appointed to the Juneau-Douglas Larger Parish, the Youth Hostel had been established in the Educational Building right next to the church. The church was across the street from the capital building. From the complaining I heard when I arrived, I realized that having a youth hostel in the building had its distractors.
We hired Don and Janet Kussart to be the house parents for the hostel. They came from the background of Church of the Brethren and they were squeaky clean. After the “incident”, we learned that the young adult community was very careful to protect us and they respected our rules about “no drugs” on church property..
During my second year in Juneau, I was at camp about 28 miles away, when word came to me that the Youth Hostel had been raided with front page coverage of the event, as a local reporter had been allowed to participate in the raid. Early in the morning the house parents were awakened in their sleeping quarters with police personnel coming into their room without knocking. No drugs were found on the premises.
Headline in the Juneau Empire read: “Police Arrest 16 in Drug Raid”. The only reference to the youth hostel was in this paragraph: “During that two-week period, 14 separate drug sales known to the police took place, including one in front of the Youth Hostel across the street from the capitol at 4:45 p.m. on a workday afternoon, police said.” The damage was done. Many believed that drugs had been found in the youth hostel. I asked the reporter why he didn’t say that the sale took place in front of the governor’s office, instead of in front of the youth hostel? And if memory serves me correctly, I may have referred to him as a “cub reporter”. I went on the offensive. I requested (demanded?) a clarification. Three days later, in a small article at the bottom of the front page, headlined with these words: “No Drug Arrests Made At Local Youth Hostel.” But the damage was done. For years I was informed that exactly the opposite was the case. Some people just read headlines and some people do not read at all.
In fact, flash forward to 1974 and we were involved in a merger with a Presbyterian Church. The Methodist Church had been taken by the State of Alaska by right of imminent domain to build a court house and the Youth Hostel needed a new home. When we tried to place it in the Presbyterian Church, objections were raised by many because of this drug raid. A strong Presbyterian layman was saying that drug arrests had occurred in the Youth Hostel. I took the newspaper clipping that affirmed that “No Drug Arrests Made At Local Youth Hostel” and he refused to change his mind. His mind was made up. I lost respect for this individual in that instance. “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.” In spite of the misinformation, the youth hostel was established in the basement of the Presbyterian Church, but I knew that there would be constant friction.
I was able to utilize the money we received from the State of Alaska for the Methodist Church to purchase the Whitehead House and that home was remodeled into usage by the Youth Hostel and it remains operative in that building to this day. (2014) The church was reimbursed and the Juneau Youth Hostel operates independently from the Methodist Church now.
Our national office in New York City had a staff person that wanted the $180,000 we eventually received for the church property, but he made the mistake of saying we could keep it if we re-invested it in property in Juneau. It didn’t take long for me to make that happen.
But, back to the story, I demanded an apology from the Chief of Police and while I did not get one, I did get the promise that violating the privacy of the house parents would not happen again in future raids. In the future they would knock. However, I received the ire of the District Attorney, which I survived quite nicely. The Chief of Police and I had respectful dialogue on this and other subjects.
The real miracle is all of this is that the church members, even those who had been critical, were now united in support of the youth hostel. It was amazing to watch. Some of the critics were now the strongest defenders of our sponsorship of the youth hostel.
And even more amazing was the reaction of the community. One woman in particular realized that her young adult children were traveling the world with back packs and she decided to treat the resident of the Youth Hostel just like she would want her own children treated. She started bringing by pies for our guests and then staying to visit with them. She was not alone. Many people started doing this and it changed a lot of attitudes.
Prior to this the police were harassing young adults as they got off the ferry. It was worse in Ketchikan, where police would not allow long-haired youth with backpacks to get off the boat. In Juneau, they just followed them down the street. At some point, I let my hair grow a wee bit longer, as well as letting my beard grow. It was my way of making a statement.
I made a lot of enemies, but I also made some friends. The newspaper reporter was never helpful again and of course, the district attorney had no use for me. I felt good about my advocacy. Many lay persons who rejected my ministry were much more angry about my criticism of the war in Vietnam than they were about the youth hostel. But that is another story.