No shelter, cold temperatures, and the struggle to stay alive
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As Anchorage prepares for temperatures to drop this week, a record-breaking number of people have died outdoors.
Forty-three people have died outdoors in Anchorage this year, according to data from the Anchorage Police Department. It’s a mark that stands alone for Anchorage statistics, although the department’s numbers are limited to just the last decade or so.
Anchorage police define an outdoor death as someone who dies outside and has no fixed address.
Police identified all deaths and reported “next-of-kin notification procedures have been completed” in all but one case.
The most recent death happened on Oct. 9 near East Third Avenue and Gambell Street. Police say they found 19-year-old Tyleah Maddox-Livengood unresponsive, and she was later pronounced dead.
“Nothing suspicious was noted at the scene,” the report said.
A GoFundMe page associated with the same name shows a young person with braids and a blue uniform with the words “CHALLENGE” on the front pocket. The page, organized by a family member, says “My family doesn’t come from much, but we’re trying everything we can to give Tyleah the goodbye she deserves.”
Last year, 24 people died. In 2021, it was 19, and in 2020, there were 17 outdoor deaths.
Anchorage police reports indicate that two-thirds of the deaths likely involved substance abuse, with police reports revealing that 28 of the 43 deaths noted either alcohol and/or drug use misuse.
One police report from March shows two men died near each other near Russian Jack Park. Police say the men — 55-year-old Ron Vaska and 51-year-old Ralph Morgan — were both found the same day, but Vaska died several days before Morgan.
Morgan died, police say, because of an untreated, infected wound.
Vaska died from exposure, according to the report.
A significant push by the city in recent days to provide hotel rooms as winter shelters has met its share of trouble as it appears there will not be enough beds for every person who registered for one.
On Monday, the city began moving people from homeless camps to hotel rooms in both the Aviator Hotel and the Alex Hotel. By midday Tuesday, Anchorage Housing and Homeless Coordinator Alexis Johnson said about 35% of the beds available — 133 of the 374 — had already been filled. Johnson said the Alex Hotel, which has fewer rooms, would likely be full by Wednesday.
She said the list has a total of 600 names, meaning more than 200 individuals likely won’t get a hotel bed.
“The implications are deadly and unconscionable,” the ACLU of Alaska wrote in an email. “Forty-three Alaskans have died outdoors so far this year. And the burden for the failure to protect public safety falls on neighborhoods and community resources to meet the direct and most basic needs of our unhoused neighbors.”
The city plans to open a shelter in the old Solid Waste Services administrative building located off East 56th Avenue in about a week that will have a maximum of 150 beds.
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