Anchorage homeless get help as cold snap overflows shelters
Many Anchorage residents face this month's freezing temperatures only briefly, but others have been on the city's streets all winter – and as local temperatures fall, their need for shelter rises.
On cold days, many homeless people converge on Bean's Cafe to warm up and get something to eat.
Veteran Wolf Shadowwing is one of them. He spends his days navigating life on Anchorage's streets with his two dogs, Penguin and Louie, and a backpack on his back.
"This is pretty much all I have and it sucks," Shadowwing said. "I got very little clothes, nothing but survival stuff; in case we need to go back out here, that's it."
Shadowwing and his dogs lived in local woods during the summer, but that became unbearable as the dead of winter set in.
"When we were camping out, it just got too cold,” he said. “Every morning we had that frost, your blankets, sleeping bags got all wet. So it's difficult to stay warm. Good thing is Louie and Penguin, they're just nothing but snugglebugs."
Shaddowing is staying in the cold-weather overflow shelter at Bean’s, which he says makes a world of a difference. He hopes to find someplace to live and work, however.
“I don’t want to be on the streets,” he said. “If I had a home, I don’t mind working and working for it. I’m trying to get out; I just really want to get back on my feet.”
With more than 1,000 homeless Alaskans like Shadowwing all facing struggles of their own, community leaders on the Homelessness Community Leadership Council are working with the public to address their needs.
“There is a lot of complex work at hand that we have a problem that impacts all of us everyone,” said Jasmine Khan, the executive director for Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. “Whether you have a moral imperative to take care of your neighbor or your family member or whether you have a fiscal interest in this, we all benefit by ending this problem in Anchorage."
On Wednesday night the council held a public meeting to discuss Anchored Home, a three-year plan to end homelessness in Anchorage.
“I think what we heard from the members of the community, both those who have lived with homelessness and those who haven't, is 'We have to do this together,'” Khan said.
Last year 389 homeless camps were abated across Anchorage, with 218 tons of materials removed from camps. In December the Anchorage Assembly added $300,000 in camp abatement funding in 2019.
Anchored Home focuses on four key pillars: prevention and diversion from people becoming homeless, housing and support for those who are, public health and safety elements, and advocacy and funding issues.
The first pillar is centered on resources to keep people in housing, including those accessible through Alaska 2-1-1, as well as addressing groups of people at risk to become homeless such as recently released prison inmates and hospital patients. The second is focused on bringing homelessness to a "functional zero" where local housing supply is matched by demand. The third deals with homeless camps and their safety effects, as well as notifying and referring occupants to social services when authorities remove illegal camps.
The fourth pillar is based on securing the resources and public will necessary to implement the plan.
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz spoke Wednesday about the proposed 5 percent local alcohol tax that will go before voters in the April 2 muni elections. He said the tax would help reduce homeless camps by funding alcohol and substance abuse treatment, homeless camp response, cold-weather shelters and mental health support.
Anchored Home's ultimate vision is to make homelessness a rare, brief and one-time event in Anchorage.
The council isn't just looking into the future, it's taking action right now due to the low temperatures.
“To help people during the cold spell, whenever it is 10 degrees or below, the muni will locate warming locations for people," said Nancy Burke, the muni's homeless coordinator.
The emergency cold weather shelters and the added warming location will help those who have no other option for the cold winter night.
"Because of this weather and how cold it has been they've been a real help because if it wasn't for them I wouldn't have no where to go,” said Shadowwing.
One immediate need to help homelessness is for volunteers, as authorities prepare for a Jan. 22 count of local homeless residents. For more information on how to help, visit the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness website.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story referred to Alaska 2-1-1 as "the 411 system."
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