Former homeless say Anchorage alcohol tax could save lives
In the upcoming municipal election, Anchorage voters will decide whether to approve Ballot Measure 9, which proposes a 5 percent tax on alcohol.
That money would be dedicated to housing, treatment and mental health services to help the homeless get off the streets. It could also be used for public safety and campsite cleanups.
Two people in favor of an alcohol tax are Rose Hubbard and Hank Wentz; they’re people you might not expect to hear from. They’re not politicians, but the two separately say they know first-hand that revenue from the tax could help the homeless help themselves.
Hubbard is 37 and says her path to life on the streets began when she ran away from home as a teenager.
Five years ago, Hubbard and her husband got into a subsidized apartment through a raffle held by RurAL CAP, a nonprofit that provides housing and other services for the homeless. Rose says having a place to call home helped to wean her off drugs.
Today, she says she no longer needs the housing assistance because her husband’s job as a carpet cleaner pays for their two-bedroom apartment.
Wentz, who is 58, says he was homeless at age 13. He also got into a subsidized apartment about five years ago. He still needs the housing assistance but now says he drinks a lot less than he did when he lived outdoors.
Today, he channels his passion into a motivational Facebook page called Natives for Sobriety. He also volunteers in the community.
Hubbard collects donations of feminine hygiene products and distributes them at shelters every month. She says that when she was homeless, she felt embarrassed when she couldn’t afford products most women take for granted.
One of her dreams is to start a legal campsite for the homeless.
Both Hubbard and Wentz serve on the Homelessness Resource Advisory Council, a group formed by the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness.
KTVA sat down with the pair at the Loussac Library recently to talk with them about how they escaped the cycle of homelessness. Here is a transcript of that interview, edited for length and clarity:
Rhonda McBride: Hank, from what I understand, you’re still binging.
McBride: What’s a before and after picture of you?
Wentz: When I was a nomadic homeless Native? I like that word. I would wait until 10 at night because all the places for me to stay warm would be closing, and I would hit the liquor store. I drank three liters of alcohol a night, more so in the winter. It would help me get comfortable sleeping on those roots.
McBride: So what’s your drinking now?
Wentz: Maybe about once every two months.
McBride: So back then, what was a day in the life of Rose?
Hubbard: Insanity. If you have nowhere to go, nobody that gives a damn, you start feeling like you are nobody.
McBride: So what was the turning point for you?
Hubbard: Having a place to stay. It’s hard to think about the rest of your life, or anything else in your life, if you don’t know where you’re going to sleep that night. I got tired of losing everything. I was walking the streets, I was selling my body, anything and everything I could do to keep the fix on and find a place to stay.
McBride: At the height of your addiction, how much did you use in the way of city services?
Wentz: Are you counting when I was in prison and using the hospital as an emergency center and sleep-off? Nudge from the judge, going to court all the time. That’s just being homeless.
Hubbard: It takes a lot to walk away, to quit, even to attempt to leave drugs behind. Your body has to go through excruciating pain and sickness. Most people can’t handle that on their own. I tried to turn myself in at [Alaska Psychiatric Institute], but they wouldn’t let me in. They said I wasn’t crazy, that I just needed to get off the drugs. And I tried to tell them that’s what I was trying to do.
And that’s why this alcohol tax would be an amazing resource. You have to have an assessment to get treatment, and then from the assessment you have to wait for a bed to be open, and during that time you have to have a place to stay. You can’t show up to any of the places as high as a kite, but most people want out when they are at their highest point, because they take one more, that’s probably going to be their last one. And I think if this alcohol tax passes, that would cut down on a lot of deaths.
Wentz: If we saved like a hundred a year from being out there in the cold, that’s a thousand people in ten years. If you spent $50 on a bottle of wine, you would pay $2.50 and you won’t even miss that. Because anybody that can afford a $50 bottle of wine doesn’t need to worry about $2.50.
McBride: Out of all the services you received, what has helped you the very most of all?
Wentz: Being able to have that mental health, so I’m not suicidal or homicidal and being able to have an apartment. It was a transition. It was hard. I spent the first year in that apartment literally drunk every day after work, washing dishes. We all have to transition from being so broken to being able to give back.
Editor’s note: The interview section of this article has been edited for length and clarity.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.
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