“We got to get all the way out to Muldoon before it’s too late,” yelled the man as he dragged a heavy, wheeled suitcase down Chester Creek Trail. “I gotta get my family somewhere quick.”
He was walking quickly toward a pavilion in Valley of the Moon Park.
“We just need to get out of the rain right now.”
He calls himself Disciple and he’s been camping illegally in the woods near Chester Creek for “three maybe four months,” he says. Thursday night, Anchorage police told him and his fiancé, Aaron Hensley, they had to go.
Disciple dropped his suitcases in the pavilion, filled a water bottle straight from Chester Creek and took a sip, handing the rest to Hensley. It was raining and getting dark. They were only a few hundred yards down the trail from where police told them to leave. The park was closing soon, and they knew they were not allowed to sleep there.
So what now?
“That’s what we’re planning on doing is sitting here talking as a family to see where we will go next,” Disciple said. “We got a few ideas. But they are …” His voice trailed off as he thinks about moving the six heavy suitcases through the night.
Using a handful of old cigarette butts, Disciple managed to roll a thin cigarette. He moved to Palmer from the Lower 48 in 2007 and has been off-and-on homeless ever since. He said he was just 16 at the time.
Twenty-one-year-old Aaron Hensley is Alaska Native.
“My mom is from Bethel, my Dad is from Kotzebue, and I was raised in Nikoli,” she said. She also has been off-and-on homeless for a few years. She prefers tent camping in Anchorage to the shelter. She doesn’t like many of the people who go to the shelter and she doesn’t feel safe there.
The light of day faded and the couple was still camped out in the pavilion. Disciple wanted to stay the night, risking another confrontation with police.
“My senses are saying they’re not going to be out here all night just to watch us,” he said. “We’ll be out at first light.”
Hensley was unsure of the plan but offered no alternative.
They lit a small propane stove and pull a thawed Tombstone pizza from a suitcase. Food is a priority — Hensley is pregnant.
“Right now it’s just ‘what would my family think?’” she said when asked how she feels about the pregnancy. She says her family doesn’t like Disciple, but she doesn’t care. “He’s the one taking care of me, he is the one who is there for me.” she said.
Disciple is still processing the situation.
“With you being pregnant, it puts a whole lot of stuff on our plate,” he said to her. “I’ll be honest with you, it scares the crap out of me. It scares me because I don’t know if I can be that father. I know I’ve got it in my heart to be a good person, and mentor, because that’s how my dad taught me. But what if I can’t support the money all the way properly?”
It’s one of many questions facing this young couple as they bed down in the pavilion for the night, just a short walk from the camp they were evicted from.
“It’s going to take us a while to find a new place, but I know we’ve got a good family around us,” Hensley said. “That’s about the only thing that matters. Family. We’ll find a place, we always do.”