As Vehicles Rushed By In Downtown Anchorage, Two Wheelchair-Bound Homeless Men Froze To Death

Wild About Anchorage  Death On City Streets  An Anchorage Intersection. (Photo, Journal Archive)  Anchorage – underneath it all – is still i...

Wild About Anchorage 

Death On City Streets 

An Anchorage Intersection. (Photo, Journal Archive) 

Anchorage – underneath it all – is still its own brand of wilderness. 

It's hard for anybody to see that nowadays, with Anchorage's tangle of clogged roads, its strip malls, and its jumble of substandard homes. 

This week, in heavy snowstorms that blocked buses and cars, four homeless people died in Anchorage. One died in a conflagration while trying to heat a pieced-together shack of tarps and scrap wood.

Two others froze to death in a blizzard -- stranded in their wheelchairs and clearly visible by passersby and cops roaming city streets. The dead men were hemmed in by an impenetrable thick blanket of snow. One of them was a known Native artist who only had one leg. He died in a doorway of a tourist shop, across the street from the Downtown Log Cabin Visitor Center. The other died, sitting along a highway, trapped by the storms, while  sleeping upright in his wheelchair. 

Those four people have joined dozens of others who died in the wilds of Anchorage this year, most of them apparently from exposure. 

That's because even though it's "Anchorage" it's bad out there. Especially if you're not decked out in Cabella's cold weather gear and bunny boots and fueled by energy bars and hot cocoa. Anchorage is Alaska, too. Underneath all the cement, and stores and traffic and homes lies Dena'ina Country. Which, like Ahtna Country, can kill the unprepared. 

In 2011,  a 28-year old Kenyan runner spent three days out in the woods and the scenic trails of Anchorage in early November. He paid for it. The runner was a student at UAA. He was dressed in street clothes, and went out onto the trails, depressed because a fellow runner had committed suicide.  

When he finally emerged from the bowels of Anchorage and stumbled into a hotel lobby, his shoes were frozen to his feet. They had to cut off his legs. It was cold in Anchorage that November winter. Not cold like the Copper Valley, but cold enough. The Anchorage weather history shows the temperature was running around 28 degrees.


This past spring, while snow was still on the ground, hundreds of people were tossed from the Sullivan Arena into the woods of Anchorage, to fend for themselves. And the result? This year, a record 49 people have already died outdoors. 

When you're in Anchorage in the summer, the wheelchair-bound are the most noticeable. These are the people who try  to roll through the streets, their empty pant legs tied up with string and flapping in the breeze, their feet already missing. 

They're the most noticeable of all the hundreds of Anchorage homeless,  because they're trapped  in their chairs. They're the most likely to be unable to help themselves. The most in need of medical care and attention. They're the most likely to have to wait through the ends of their lives until -- eventually -- they freeze to death in a very public place in the middle of Alaska's largest city. 

On the internet, Anchorage is getting a deservedly bad rap: 



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