‘I don’t think he meant to die in the doorway here’: Anchorage outdoor deaths increase

A record 49 “official” outdoor deaths so far this year
‘I don’t think he meant to die in the doorway here’: Anchorage outdoor deaths increase
Published: Nov. 10, 2023 at 2:59 PM AKST|Updated: Nov. 11, 2023 at 5:58 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Written in black on the wall outside of a gift shop in downtown Anchorage reads “RIP Uncle Al.”

“I don’t think he meant to die in the doorway here,” Richard “Ziggy” Zeigler said, “But he did.”

Zeigler says Alfred Koonaloak, who used a wheelchair, liked to sleep in the doorway of the shop across from the visitor center.

Friday afternoon, the entrance was littered with empty bottles of vodka. A man slept beside a green backpack covered by plastic tarps.

“He’d sleep there all the time. Him and another lady,” Zeigler said.

Koonaloak spoke with Alaska’s News Source last April. At the time he said he was waiting for housing.

“I’ve been trying to get housing since last year. Promises promises. I hope this is the promise because I am tired of living on the street. I’m tired of living here,” Koonaloak said at the time.

“I’m not giving up,” he said as he sat outside the Sullivan Arena.

Koonaloak’s story is one of many that have happened this year in Anchorage and as the city heads into colder months, the death toll is expected to increase.

A slow start to winter quickly vanished this month as Anchorage nearly 40 inches of snow since November 5 — much more than forecasted — and Mayor Dave Bronson declared a snow emergency last Thursday.

Anchorage police now report 49 “outdoor deaths this year.”

Anchorage police define an outdoor death as someone who dies outside and has no fixed address. Last year, 24 people died.

In 2021, it was 19, and in 2020, there were 17 outdoor deaths.

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.

The city dashboard currently shows 5 beds are available at the winter shelter sites at the old sanitation facility.

Down the road from where Koonaloak died, another man slept under a tarp inside a doorway.

“I see a person that needs help. Nobody’s helping him,” Charles Newsom said while a woman nearby yelled at a news crew about people’s connections to water and sand.

“Protect all these people out here,” Newsome said.