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Organizations react to recent outdoor deaths

By Alexis Fernandez 9:14 PM December 30, 2013

“We're doing everything we can to get people to come in. You’re always going to have people that it’s still not an attractive option for them, for whatever that reason may be."

ANCHORAGE - A day after a second outdoor death was reported in Anchorage in less than a week, local nonprofits are trying to figure out if enough is being done to prevent these tragedies from happening.

So far this year, at least five people have died outside, according to the Municipality of Anchorage.

The latest victim was 57-year-old Phyllis Ayaprun who died of cold exposure after she slept in a tent Friday night.

Two days before, the body of 34-year-old Elaine Marie Cleveland was found inside an empty van near downtown Anchorage.

Susan Bomalaski, executive director with Catholic Social Services Alaska said these tragedies could have been prevented if people were willing to get help.

“We’re doing everything we can to get people to come in,” Bomalaski said. “You’re always going to have people that it’s still not an attractive option for them, for whatever that reason may be.”

On any given day, she said, Brother Francis Shelter and Bean’s Café can house more than 360 people. But it’s only meant to be a temporary housing option.

“A shelter is not meant to be permanent housing, so the idea is that you can stay in the shelter for 30 days — if you’re not doing any kind of working, a plan or anything like that, then you find somewhere else to stay for 30 days. But to get that extension of services at the Brother Francis Shelter, you just need to meet with a case manager,” she said.

Clients can sometimes stay for several months or even up to a year, she said, if they’re actively seeking treatment.

On days when the temperature hits below 45 degrees, several churches also open their doors overnight to families. But even then, some people still choose to sleep outside because there are no rules.

“You have to have some behavior requirements or you have chaos, which is basically what we’ve had the last two winters. Then it becomes dangerous for the people that want to stay there,” Bomalaski said.

For  now, there isn’t a need for another shelter just yet, she said.

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