New details paint a picture of a sister, friend and mother of four
ANCHORAGE – It didn’t take long for the news to spread through Beans Café — a place where Anchorage homeless find food, refuge and support — that another name would soon be added to a memorial mural in the cafeteria that lists the names of hundreds of lives lost.
“There’s more and more every year,” a homeless man eating at Beans Café said. “Recently there was one young girl that passed away in a van.”
That young girl was 34-year-old Elaine Marie Cleveland. Her body was found inside a Chevy van Thursday morning near downtown Anchorage. Police believe the frigid temperatures contributed to her death.
“She had no place to go, so she found a van and eventually, she died,” said Marvin Aguchak, who knew Cleveland from Beans Café.
Cleveland’s death was hard news for a community of men and women who have fallen on hard times. Among the dozens of area homeless seeking a warm meal and place to rest at the café, none felt the loss more than Elaine Cleveland’s sister, Rena.
“I just wish I could’ve seen her more and talked to her more,” Rena said. “She was an awesome sister. There’s some up and downs with her and you know, sisters are sisters.”
Rena’s composure crumbled when she caught a glimpse of her sister’s picture, but her friends at the café rushed to console her.
“There’s just way too much stuff going though my mind right now and …” Rena began, but was unable to finish.
After taking a few moments to gather the words she needed to describe the sister, friend and mother of four young children that she’ll never see again, all Rena offered was one short sentence:
“She was the best mother,” she said.
According to family, when Cleveland lost her job she picked up drinking. Within a few months, she lost her home and her children, leaving her to a life on the cold streets of Anchorage like her sister Rena. Ultimately, she suffered a fate that according to Aguchak, has become far too common.
“I’ve seen about six to eight people die,” he said. “Freezing to death. No place to go, no place to hide. They eventually pass out and then that’s it.”
Now, Rena’s biggest concern is locating the nieces and nephews her sister left behind in hopes of keeping the memory of the mother they lost alive.
“Wherever you are …” Rena said, “Your mother will always love you. She did love you, with all her heart.”