An Inside Look at Life in Anchorage’s Housing First Project, Karluk Manor (KTVA.com exclusive)
Life is proven fragile for chronic inebriates, on and off the streets
ANCHORAGE - After nearly a month of snowstorms and frigid weather, blue skies and balmy temperatures came as a welcome break for residents at Karluk Manor.
Standing in the snow in front of the wet housing facility for the chronically alcoholic homeless, Kurt Osterhaus and Darlene Kunayuk enjoyed the sunshine, snacking on miniature packets of tropical punch-flavored drink mix and cheap alcohol out of an old plastic LifeWater bottle.
Rocking back and forth in his worn work boots, Osterhaus ripped open another plastic pouch and tipped the sugary powder into his mouth, washing it down with a gulp of pungent smelling vodka.
His tan Carhartt jumpsuit was unzipped halfway down his chest to reveal a worn blue t-shirt with a tattered neckline, and his grey, shoulder-length hair flopped over his eyes.
Osterhaus called himself a jack-of-all-trades, but on Monday he was only doing one thing.
“I’m kind of inebriated,” he said, laughing. He rolled the bottle between the palms of his hands and watched as a maroon 12-passenger van used by facility staff turned off the road, idling in the driveway. An automated gate in the wrought iron fence surrounding the Manor opened slowly, and the van disappeared inside.
“That’s me!” Osterhaus said. He turned and stumbled through the gate after it, disappearing up the stairs towards his room on the second floor.
His apartment is one of 46 in the facility, operated by the non-profit Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RurAL CAP.) According to RurAL CAP eligibility standards, the residents are required to earn less than 30 percent of the area median income level and meet federal definitions for disability and chronic alcoholism.
Modeled after the “Housing First” model, pioneered in Seattle, the program does not require tenants to seek treatment for their addictions. Instead, a fact sheet posted on RurAL CAP’s website claims “Housing chronic homeless alcoholics IS treatment.”
“Research has shown that tenants drink less, they are safe and their use of emergency services is drastically reduced,” the document continued.
Local police and emergency service personnel know firsthand just how dangerous a life of homelessness can be. Since October 2008, 36 men and women have died on Anchorage streets. Three were murdered, police said, but the rest were killed by something else entirely.
“This is about the most telling part of the whole thing,” said Anchorage Police Department spokesman Lieutenant Dave Parker.
He flipped through a stack of papers containing the case information of every person lost on the streets over the past three years.
Printed in neat letters under the photos of the deceased were three words: acute ethanol poisoning.
Their blood alcohol contents (BAC) were also printed in bold fonts, and the majority topped .31. Parker said the few below that belonged to people whose bodies were found weeks after their deaths, once the alcohol had time to disappear from their bloodstreams.
He pointed to one picture, a smiling man with disheveled black hair whose BAC had been a .556 when he died of alcohol poisoning and a blow to the head.