• 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

  • News

    Pot legalization puts Alaska drug-sniffing dogs out of work

    by Associated Press on Jan 30, 10:43

    The legalization of marijuana in Alaska is putting some police dogs out of work. The Juneau Empire reports (http://is.gd/p2PBhQ) that 10 drug-sniffing dogs used by the Alaska State Troopers will be taken out of service when recreational use of marijuana becomes legal Feb. 24. The 10 Belgian malinois, Dutch shepherds, German shepherds, Czech shepherds and […]

  • DayBreak

    Meet Butterscotch, this week’s Daybreak Adopt-A-Pet

    by Daybreak Staff on Jan 30, 10:30

    Meet Butterscotch, a 1-year-old rabbit who is about as friendly as a puppy. Butterscotch is active, curious and affectionate. He enjoys playing with his toys, rearranging the hay in his kennel and being held in your lap. Butterscotch will be an entertaining companion for his family. He can be adopted at the Anchorage Animal Care […]

  • News

    Search suspended for woman missing along Kuskokwim River

    by Associated Press on Jan 30, 8:52

    The search has been suspended for the third person missing since December when a snowstorm hit the Kwethluk area. KYUK reports (http://is.gd/I3I4CV) the all-volunteer search for 27-year-old Sally Stone was suspended because of cold weather, equipment in need of repair and low morale. Stone and two others from Aniak were traveling on a snowmobile Dec. […]

  • Weather

    Daybreak weather, Jan. 30

    by Brett Shepard on Jan 30, 8:43

    Clearing skies today in Southcentral and the sunshine will stick around for the weekend. In the Southeast skies will also begin to clear with some patchy dense fog in the morning. In the Interior it will be another very cold day. On the North Slope it will be windy with some snow. Out West it […]

  • News

    Acting adjutant general: Reforms in progress but more are needed

    by Rhonda McBride on Jan 30, 8:27

    Gov. Bill Walker is expected to appoint a new commissioner to head the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Friday. The commissioner also serves as adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard. Acting Adjutant Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges addressed the House State Affairs committee Thursday, bringing lawmakers up to date on reforms to address the […]

  • Crime

    Authorities arrest ‘dangerous’ fugitive at home in Tok

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jan 30, 8:06

    A 38-year-old fugitive who Alaska State Troopers consider “very dangerous” was arrested in Tok Friday after he ran away from his court-appointed third-party custodian in Fairbanks last week. Warrants were issued for Michael Bracht Jan. 22 after he fled a Fairbanks home on Geist Road in violation of his condition of release. The Dot Lake […]

  • News

    AIDEA’s letter of intent for $52.5M purchase of Pentex raises concerns

    by Shannon Kemp on Jan 30, 7:26

    The governor’s plan to bring energy relief to the Interior is raising some concerns. This week, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) in conjunction with Gov. Bill Walker announced they signed a non-binding letter of intent to purchase Pentex Alaska Natural Gas Company, LLC and its assets. Included in the purchase are Fairbanks Natural Gas and the […]

  • News

    New PSA message: Alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix

    by Rhonda McBride on Jan 30, 0:23

    Most people know that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix. But what about women who drink and don’t know they’re pregnant? Experts say the early days of conception are when the embryo is the most vulnerable to birth defects caused by alcohol, especially if the woman is binge drinking. The Alaska Mental Health Trust debuted a […]