Second outdoor death in 48 hours, police say
ANCHORAGE - For the second time in just two days, a homeless woman is found dead after spending the night out in the cold in Anchorage.
The body of a 57-year-old woman was discovered in a tent in Mountain View Saturday morning, according to police. She has been identified her as Phyllis Ayaprun.
A 911 call just before 7:30 a.m. sent police to an area on Commercial Drive in Mountain View where they discovered Ayaprun’s body. She died from cold exposure, police said.
Her death comes just 48 hours after another woman, 34-year-old Elaine Marie Cleveland, was found dead in a van near downtown Anchorage. Officials have determined that cold weather was responsible for both deaths, and according to witnesses and officials, alcohol may have also played a role.
This second exposure death has people questioning area homeless shelters’ 30-day stay policies.
“Last month on the average we were turning away 15 to 20 people a night and it’s tragic when you have to tell somebody, ‘Sorry, you can’t stay here,’” said George Smith, Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission client supervisor.
At Brother Francis Shelter, clients are allowed to stay with them for 30 days, after which they are not allowed back for another 30 days. The Anchorage Gospel Rescue Mission policies allow sober clients to sleep there for 30 days and aren’t allowed back for 60 days — leaving countless others like Elmer Bradley out in the cold.
“However many days you spend here you’re out,” Bradley said. “So, you use up your time so there’s no other place to go. You have no family or friends you can go to.”
So, Bradley said, you find a way to make due. According to police, on Wednesday night Cleveland chose to sleep in a van. Friday night, Ayaprun chose a tent in a wooded area — decisions that, police say, led to both women freezing to death.
“In these situations we advise anyone out in the cold to find shelter,” said Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Castro. “When people are drinking and lose their judgement and end up passing out in the cold and they’re unresponsive it can create these situations.”
The Anchorage Safety Patrol and Center pick up area inebriated people and monitor them as they sober up.
Once the temperature or wind chill factor reaches zero degrees, Anchorage police go into “Cold Alert” status. Once In “Cold Alert” status, officers go searching for people outside to offer them help or transportation, but they can only offer help to those they can actually see. Anyone off the beaten path or out of plain sight — like where Phyllis Ayaprun was found — would go unnoticed and unserved.
But Smith, formerly homeless himself, said the “hardcore homeless” don’t want to be seen and don’t want to be helped.
“The hardcore homeless campers, they don’t want to be found,” Smith said. “A lot of the hardcore homeless, they prefer camping. It’s weird because you feel safe out there, but you’re not really because you’re dealing with the elements.”
Speaking from personal experience, Smith said the decision to seek help can only be made by one person.
“It has to come from within for you to wake up and realize, ‘I’m tired of this,’” he said.