Father died same way as homeless man in Anchorage

Posted: Sunday, May 09, 2010

ANCHORAGE - A man found dead in a homeless camp in Anchorage was the son of a man found dead the same way 13 years ago.

Police told The Anchorage Daily News there's no sign of a crime in the death of 39-year-old Vernon Konukpeok Jr.

He had been camping in brush near a Seward Highway onramp with his cousin and a woman with whom he'd been known to panhandle. When the cousin woke up Thursday, he found Konukpeok dead.

Konukpeok's father was 44 when he was found dead in 1997 in the Ship Creek area.

The newspaper said the younger Konukpeok's camp had two sleeping bags, a blanket and blue utility tarp. A worn toothbrush was on the ground along with a couple empty pouches of Top hand-rolling tobacco and a cardboard sign that had been trampled into the mud.

"God bless," read one side. "Need a cigarette," read the other.

Police also found liquor and beer bottles.

Six bodies have turned up in Anchorage parks or camps this spring. Twenty people have been found dead in Anchorage streets and parks since last May, most of them homeless or familiar with street life.

The outdoor deaths have prompted the mayor to create a homeless leadership team, which approved more than a dozen strategies Tuesday to address the problem of street alcoholics.

Many of the recommendations are framed around Housing First, which would give the homeless a safe home without demanding they quit drinking.

Nora Flores of Togiak, the mother of Konukpeok, said her son had been in Anchorage since mid-April because he had medical appointments.

He was due to fly home to Togiak in early June. Konukpeok told her he had stomach problems and had lost weight, she said, but when he called home on Sunday he sounded fine.

Konukpeok made his living as a commercial salmon fisherman. He had been staying with family and friends, but he had friends who live in the camps, she said.

"We were never worried because I have sisters and nieces and family over there, but he tends to roam out and just goes to those places," Flores said. "He never gave us anything to worry about. This is a big shock to all of us."

Lt. Dave Parker said the three people were known to panhandle along a Seward Highway off-ramp.

"One thing people can do is stop giving money to folks standing beside the road with their little signs," Parker said. "First of all, it's illegal for those people to step into the road to take money, and it's illegal for people to hand money out the window."

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