Anchorage adds to record homeless death total as major winter storm drops more than 2 feet of snow

by Lucas Garcia
Anchorage Snowstorm

In Anchorage, a recent major winter storm has exacerbated the ongoing challenge of providing shelter for the city’s significant homeless population. Over the past week, four homeless individuals tragically lost their lives, shedding light on the city’s struggle to address this issue while facing severe winter weather conditions, including over 2 feet (0.61 meters) of snowfall within just 48 hours.

These four fatalities have contributed to a distressing record of 49 people perishing while living on the streets of Anchorage this year. This number significantly surpasses the 24 deaths reported in the state’s largest city in the previous year, as documented by the Anchorage Daily News. Disturbingly, 11 of these deaths occurred during the winter months.

The heavy snowfall from this week’s storm blanketed the makeshift camps and vehicles where homeless individuals sought refuge after the closure of the mass shelter located inside the city’s sports arena during the pandemic. Although the city managed to clear at least one of these large camps, some individuals have chosen to endure the harsh winter conditions rather than seeking shelter.

Among the recent fatalities, a woman tragically lost her life when her makeshift shelter caught fire, likely due to a heating source used for warmth. The other three victims were men, with one found deceased in the doorway of a downtown gift store, another alongside a busy road near a Walmart, and the third in a tent at an encampment near the city’s main library.

The situation has prompted concern and reflection among city officials. Felix Rivera, an Anchorage Assembly member who chairs the Housing and Homeless Committee, expressed the need for a long-term solution, emphasizing that while temporary shelter beds have been added, the ultimate goal must be to construct more housing to prevent further tragedies. Rivera cautioned against relying solely on short-term fixes, warning that limited funds may eventually hamper such efforts.

Anchorage has grappled with finding a sustainable solution for housing the homeless since the closure of the arena shelter. Disagreements between the city’s conservative mayor and liberal assembly members have stalled progress on a new mass shelter. An earlier proposal suggesting offering one-way plane tickets to the homeless to leave the city met with widespread criticism and remained unfunded.

As an interim measure, the city has repurposed old hotels and apartment buildings and recently opened a new 150-bed mass shelter at the former waste transfer station administration building. While some beds were available, demand is expected to exceed supply. Plans to add 50 more beds and potentially establish warming centers and additional shelters are in the works.

The heavy snowfall during the recent storm disrupted city buses, eliminating a readily available source of warmth for the homeless and hindering access to shelters and social service programs for low-income residents.

While current temperatures have hovered around the 30-degree Fahrenheit (-1-degree Celsius) mark, colder weather is forecasted, with single-digit temperatures expected in the near future. The storm itself brought substantial snowfall, breaking daily records in various parts of Anchorage.

Despite these challenges, the community is grappling with power outages, school closures or remote learning, and highway closures. The situation highlights the urgent need for a comprehensive and sustainable solution to address homelessness in Anchorage, especially during the unforgiving winter months.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Homelessness

What is the current situation in Anchorage regarding homelessness and the recent winter storm?

Anchorage is facing a critical issue as it struggles to provide shelter for its homeless population, with four homeless individuals tragically losing their lives during a recent severe winter storm.

How many homeless deaths have been reported in Anchorage this year, and how does this compare to the previous year?

This year, Anchorage has sadly recorded a total of 49 deaths among individuals living on the streets, a significant increase compared to the 24 deaths reported in the previous year.

What factors have contributed to the challenge of providing shelter during the winter months?

The recent heavy snowfall from the winter storm has covered makeshift camps and vehicles where homeless people sought refuge after the closure of the mass shelter established inside the city’s sports arena during the pandemic.

What efforts have been made to address the homeless crisis in Anchorage?

While temporary shelter beds have been added, city officials acknowledge the need for a long-term solution, emphasizing the importance of constructing more housing to prevent further tragedies. Plans to add more shelter beds and establish warming centers are also being considered.

How has the closure of city buses affected the homeless population during the storm?

The heavy snowfall led to the suspension of city bus services, depriving homeless individuals of a vital source of warmth and hindering their access to shelters and social service programs.

What is the weather forecast for Anchorage in the near future, and how might it impact the homeless?

While current temperatures have been around 30 degrees Fahrenheit, single-digit temperatures are expected in the coming days, posing additional challenges for those without shelter.

What records did the recent winter storm break in terms of snowfall?

The storm broke daily records with 17.2 inches of snowfall at the city’s official recording station. Some areas closer to the Chugach Mountains recorded up to 30 inches of snow.

How has the storm affected the city beyond the homeless population?

The storm resulted in widespread power outages, school closures or the switch to remote learning, and some highway closures, impacting residents beyond just the homeless population.

More about Homelessness

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ConcernedCitizen November 11, 2023 - 6:20 am

wow, 49 deaths this year? last year was 24, that’s crazy, something has to change ASAP

SeriousWriter November 11, 2023 - 6:59 am

Anchorage’s homeless crisis is a serious problem, needs to be addressed urgently, more shelter beds needed!

WeatherWatch November 11, 2023 - 3:13 pm

storm caused big snowfall, power outages, schools closed, tough times for everyone in Anchorage

JohnDoe November 12, 2023 - 12:34 am

so sad abt the homeless ppl in anchorage, need more shelters 4 them, hope they get help, weather’s bad


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