Installing "non-managed" packages on Debian is no harder than on any other package-managed distro. All you have to remember is that when a source tarball (and that's the only sort of package you should ever install, apart from a Debian-supplied .deb package) *says* it depends on "foo", what it *really* means is that it depends on "foo-dev". So whenever you install a package using apt, look for the -dev version and install that. "foo-dev" invariably depends on "foo".
Why do we have -dev packages? Because a long time ago, when the Internet used dial-up, disks were measured in megabytes and processor speeds were measured in MHz, someone decided to separate out files which were not essential for day-to-day use of a package but might be required by developers into special "developers'" packages. And unfortunately, nobody (except Gentoo) has noticed that the state of affairs which led to this situation no longer persists.
Please, in the name of all that's sane and wholesome, let's drop -dev packages once and for all, and just put all the "developers'" files in the main package. Most people have the disk space to spare; and those who haven't, probably know what they're doing. I wasted more time learning about the need for -dev packages than I would have wasted by downloading ones I didn't need.