Hundreds hunt for homeless services in Anchorage

Posted: Monday, February 01, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Social service workers and volunteers checked snow-covered tents in wooded areas of Anchorage during the city's annual count of the homeless.

The homeless also were counted Wednesday at missions and shelters. But most - about 775 people - showed up at the Egan Civic Center for the Project Homeless Connect program. It offers help with housing, health care and even a hair cut.

State homeless coordinator Kris Duncan told The Anchorage Daily News the final homeless count will take several weeks to compile.

To prevent double counting, workers collect the last four numbers of an individual's Social Security number and their initials, along with other key information such as where they slept the previous night, whether they are a domestic violence victim and whether they have problems with alcohol.

All over the country, agencies count the homeless sometime during the last week in January, as directed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The numbers translate into federal grant dollars for programs to help the homeless, Duncan said.

The problem of homeless alcoholics became more urgent in Anchorage after a string of deaths last spring and summer. Police began cracking down on illegal camping.

Spots popular with the homeless in the summer were mostly cleared out Wednesday. A few of the tents looked abandoned. But others looked like someone lived there. Someone's duffel bags and a bike were at one spot. A charcoal grill was at another. Yellow snow marked one camp's bathroom.

At the Egan, organizers counted people like Edward Karshekoff, 60. He's been homeless off and on about a dozen years, he said. He's on disability now. Alcohol, he said, is a big problem in his life. The night before, he slept in a shack in his sister's yard.

People were getting credit reports and copies of their birth certificates. They were looking into jobs and subsidized housing. Women were getting mammograms. People could get H1N1 vaccines and HIV tests, vision checks and antibiotics. Dentists looked for oral cancers and cavities. The Food Bank stuffed plastic bags with peanut butter, bread, cantaloupes and bottled drinks.

Hundreds picked up free tote bags from the U.S. Census Bureau stuffed with beanies, gloves and socks. The bureau encourages the homeless to be counted so Alaska gets its share of federal dollars, said Barbara Fleek, a specialist with the bureau. One woman told her homeless people feel invisible.

Bernice Thorpe, 63, said she is staying at Brother Francis Shelter. She's been homeless off and on for a decade. Thorpe said she's on disability and suffers from depression. She said she was glad so much help was at the Egan. She began looking into housing. She also got a haircut from a Trendsetter stylist.

Her last haircut was a butchered do-it-yourself job. She covered it with a hat. The stylish new do was good for her ego, she said. "I was being pampered for a while," she said.

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