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Monday marks National Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day

Published: Dec. 21, 2020 at 4:45 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In Alaska, the cold and snow have had it feeling like winter for weeks, if not months, and yet the official first day of the season is Dec. 21. Monday is also used to mark another important event: National Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day. It’s an opportunity to memorialize those in the homeless community who died this past year.

Lisa Aquino, the CEO of Catholic Social Services, reflects on this day saying, “All people deserve dignity and respect and dying and homelessness, dying in unsheltered homelessness outside, that is not something we want to wish on anyone. I mean, to think about that is really heartbreaking.”

Homelessness is an issue that’s plagued Alaska even before the coronavirus pandemic struck. In 2019, Anchorage alone saw about 7,900 incidences of homelessness, according to the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness. Jasmine Boyle, the executive director of ACEH, says that things had actually been improving in the fight to keep people off the street before COVID-19 hit its full stride, but those gains have now faded.

“What we were seeing based on our data analysis, is that especially for families and young people, we were actually on the precipice of having enough capacity to manage our demand and really get ahead of that. Then of course in March of this year, COVID hit Anchorage and things have really turned upside down as a result of the economic impacts of COVID. So while we had every reason to believe that we were going to get a handle on veteran homelessness, young adult homelessness and family homelessness, we have taken a side step in that work because what we’re seeing is a very significant rise in what I call new homelessness,” says Boyle.

That added toll of the pandemic has created a surge in new homelessness that can be both seen and felt in the state’s shelters right now.

“We’re seeing an 18% increase in folks accessing shelter monthly, that’s what we’re seeing every month and everyone here in this community is working hard as they can to try to fill that,” says Aquino.

Looking ahead, there is concern about when things will begin to turn around. According to Boyle, even when the vaccines start to reach the masses and the health care systems begin to return to a pre-pandemic state, the impact on the homeless and near-homeless community could stretch out for another 18 months, possibly even two years.

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