• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
4m 26s

In Mountain View, neighbors pay it forward

By Kirsten Swann 12:50 AM October 18, 2013

Gunshot wounds and garbage problems bring residents together

ANCHORAGE – When Mark Harms first moved to Anchorage more than twenty years ago, one of the first things he received was a warning.

“Someone told me, ‘Don’t live anywhere with a view in it, Mountain View, Fairview,” he said Thursday afternoon. “Right now, after what has all happened, I really wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

Harms, 51, was standing outside a two-story stucco in the heart of Mountain View, dressed casually in hand-me-down khakis, a worn newsboy cap and a bright blue hooded sweatshirt with the phrase “communities mobilizing for change on alcohol” emblazoned across the chest. He’d had his own struggles with alcohol. These were some of the only clothes he owned that weren’t caked in dried paint and caulk, he said.

Other than the thick calluses on his hands, Harms had little to show for the 30 years he’d spent working for local carpenters’ unions. He said he and his longtime girlfriend stayed one step ahead of homelessness by bouncing from apartment to apartment, repairing and renovating them in exchange for rent. Harms had been in the process of fixing up a Mountain View fourplex three weeks ago when everything came crashing down.

He was shot twice after an altercation with a drunk driver outside his apartment. Unable to work and barely able to walk, Harms was at a loss.

And then, he said, “God works in mysterious ways.”

A neighbor who had heard about Harm’s injuries showed up the next day with a meatloaf and a piece of advice: Go see Mother Lawrence.

Alice Lawrence, 78, has distributed free food and clothes from her Mountain View stucco for the past 40 years. Her yard is overgrown and unkempt, and the driveway running up alongside the house is crowded with cars and trash and donated goods and hungry people waiting for a free meal.

Harms said that’s where he found the old walker that allowed him to show up in court for his attacker’s arraignment just a few days after he was shot. And when Lawrence heard about his predicament, Harms said she blessed him so powerfully he was back on his feet before he knew it.

“I asked her what I could do for her and she said make the garbage stop,” he said.

So, for the past few days, Harms has been helping to clear the debris from Lawrence’s property. There are big black plastic bags filled with diapers and boxes of moldering books, bedbug infested mattresses and broken furniture. Some of the things -– like Harms’ walker –- are still useful.

About fifteen people rent rooms in Lawrence’s house, and many of them find clothes among the bags and boxes abandoned on her porch and yard. Harms said everything he was wearing Thursday came from her.

But it was becoming a problem. The bugs from the piling trash had made their way into Lawrence’s home, and Harms said he made three separate trips to the dump last week in an attempt to clear some of the debris from her yard.

“It’s been happening for 40 years, people have been bringing stuff here and just dumping it off,” said Harms, gesturing towards the driveway. “Someone has been dropping off whole apartments here, and now with the bedbugs and roaches and other problems, it’s got to stop.”

He made a homemade sign – black letters painted with broad strokes on a sheet of plywood – telling people to stop dumping trash in the yard. Using twist ties to hang it on the chain link fence around Lawrence’s yard, Harms said he hoped people would get the message: No more dumping.

“I’m trying to give back — I’m trying to give back to Mother Lawrence,” he said. “I’ve done an awful lot of taking. It’s time to start giving.”

More people began to gather, wandering in off the street as the clock ticked closer to 4:30 in the afternoon. That’s when Lawrence would begin distributing the big boxes of assorted foods stacked on her kitchen table. The people she fed stood around the yard smoking and talking while they waited, and some of them strolled inside to sit in the big pews lined up in Lawrence’s dark, quiet living room.

Outside, Harms shuffled back and forth between the side of the house and the dumpster in front. He threw out a twisted metal bed frame, an old, smashed microwave and a pile of soggy acupuncture textbooks. He swept up piles of broken glass littering the parking lot, and decided to keep an old polo shirt crumpled on the front stoop and a trash bag filled with unused disposable diapers.

“Someone could use these,” he said, propping the bag up against the side of the house.

Maybe a local refuse company would donate a container to separate the usable donations from the trash, Harms mused. Maybe they could put it on the empty lot across the street, and the homeless and needy who cut through on a daily basis could find warm clothes or something else useful.

Lawrence has been giving a hand up to her Mountain View neighbors for decades now, he said. She touched his life, and inspired him to pay it forward.

“This is my community,” Harms said. “If you just try to help someone every day, that’s what we’re here for.”

Latest Stories

  • Weather

    Weekend weather forecast, Aug. 29

    by KTVA Weather on Aug 29, 19:03

    Anchorage Expect partly cloudy skies Saturday and Sunday. Highs will be below normal, in and around the upper 50s. Kenai Peninsula & Prince William Sound Partly to mostly sunny skies are expected for the Kenai and PWS. Areas near Seward and Whittier can expect some windy conditions. Highs will be in the upper 50s and […]

  • News

    Dillingham plans to voice erosion concerns during President Obama’s visit

    by Emily Carlson on Aug 29, 18:50

    When Dillingham residents are asked what their land means to them, the answer is simple — it’s home. Many fear that, due to erosion, they will not only lose their land but also the culture that’s been built upon those shores.

  • News

    Gov. Walker to fly with President Obama to Alaska

    by Associated Press on Aug 29, 13:15

    Gov. Bill Walker will fly to Alaska with President Barack Obama on Monday. Walker’s office announced in a release Saturday that Walker will accompany the president aboard Air Force One from Washington, D.C. The president will address a State Department global warming conference Monday afternoon in Anchorage. He also has visits planned in Seward, Dillingham […]

  • Crime

    UPDATE: Suspect sought in connection with 1 of the overnight shootings in Anchorage

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Aug 29, 8:03

    Anchorage police say two men were injured in shootings that happened in the overnight hours between Friday and Saturday. APD is now seeking a suspect, Michael Sharp, in connection with one of those shootings. On Friday, officers went to two homes in response to a verbal altercation between three people, a 23-year-old woman, her 23-year […]

  • Sports

    Friday’s high school football recap

    by KTVA Sports on Aug 28, 22:57

    The weekend is off to a rousing start. The top-ranked team in the state, West survived a late charge by #2 Dimond, winning on the road at Alumni Field 18-13. The Eagles took an 18-0 lead into the half as Julo Tagalu scored twice and PJ Seui added a touchdown run. At Palmer, the Moose got their first win of the […]

  • Sports

    Service H.S. quarterback suspended

    by Dave Goldman on Aug 28, 22:42

    Service High Football will have to regroup. Sophomore starting quarterback Xavier Harris has been suspended from school. He will not be in uniform for Saturday’s game with Soldotna. “All we can say is we have a young man that’s been suspended from school and he will not be on the roster tomorrow.” said Service Head Coach […]

  • Weather

    Evening News Weather, Aug. 28

    by KTVA Weather on Aug 28, 22:26

    Kenai Peninsula/Prince William Sound Expect partly cloudy skies Saturday with highs in the upper 50s and low 60s.   Southeast Showers will be likely as an area of low pressure continues to churn up gulf moisture into the Panhandle. Highs will be in the mid 50s.   Interior/North Slope For the Interior, expect a chance […]

  • News

    Eating Alaskan at the Alaska State Fair

    by Shannon Ballard on Aug 28, 22:06

    It’s not hard to find people who like to eat their way through the Alaska State Fair. Beth Foglesong is one of them. Every year she stops at the Pristine Products booth to slurp some fresh oysters from Prince William Sound. “The people that like them come every year,” said oyster farmer Dave Sczawiaski. Sczawiaski’s oysters […]