housing first

Lifestyle is killing the homeless

Following a string of deaths of homeless people in Alaska and British Columbia, Lisa Demer of the Anchorage Daily News released a comprehensive report on why homeless people are dying: lifestyle. At least four of the 12 deaths this summer were related to chronic drinking, a habit that often forced people who did have homes back onto the street when landlords told them they couldn't bring drinking buddies around anymore.

Is this lifestyle a choice? Many people end up on the street because they can't get a job, or start drinking to deal with the death of loved ones or other stresses. Anyone could end up in this situation. For people on the street, the most important factor is finding the next drink, meal, or shelter - they're not worrying about long-term consequences of their actions, because they're not sure there will be a long-term for them. They're focusing on meeting basic survival needs.

Researchers in Victoria, B.C., found the number one issue of concern for homeless injection drug users was security - physical safety and shelter - not infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, reports Tom Sandborn of The Tyee. Once people have a safe place to stay that helps them battle their addiction rather than kicking them out, their stress levels and risky behaviors decrease. They are much more likely to use condoms and practice safer drug habits, or quit entirely.

Security also affects likelihood of death by outside factors, such as violent attacks.

As homeless tolls rise, so does the need for a solution

Nine bodies of homeless men have been found outdoors in and around Anchorage since May of this year, with the latest discovered this weekend, reports Kyle Hopkins in one of a series of stories in the Anchorage Daily News. The most recent man had been dead for several days before discovery. Police report no signs of foul play, but don't yet know his cause of death.

Four of the previous deaths were alcohol-related, but no other links between all the bodies are apparent. Four of the men were Native Alaskans, spurring talk that the deaths were racially-motivated killings, but so far no evidence has been released to back this up. One man was robbed and beaten to death in Centennial Park by two 18-year-olds who stole a duffel bag, $7 and beer. They have been charged with second-degree murder. Police say at least one of the teenagers was living at a camp in the park as well.

The cluster of deaths highlights a growing problem. Following recession and “gentrification” of downtown Anchorage, the number of homeless people in the city increased 35 percent from last year to almost 3000. Only about 13 percent are substance abusers or chronic inebriates. And with shelters overflowing, the question now is, where are these people going to go?

The police say they would like to get homeless people out of camps and into a centralized location, perhaps a tent city, similar to what Seattle did with their “housing first” plan where they set people up with housing without requiring them to halt substance abuse first.