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What Seward Alaska does for the homeless

Homeless are not without a hometown.
Homeless are not without a hometown.
Dorene M. Lorenz

All the classic stories are here, it is the endings that are different.  Spook*, a loner veteran with mental health issues who is known for yelling at people who invade his personal space, and shoving those who refuse to heed the verbal warning, can be seen any given day riding about town on a bicycle.  Every year he miraculously gets a new bicycle, courtesy of a former police chief, and no one says a word if he has a few salmon past the legal limit hanging off it’s side.

Billy was born “a little slow,” so slow he can’t count or appreciate the value of the exceptionally pungent wad of cash he hands the bank teller every morning.  She gives him a friendly smile and a lollipop, straightens out the bloody bills, and fills out the deposit slip for him. 

Summer afternoons, rain or shine, are spent cleaning fish for the charter boats, a vocation one of the deckhands taught him.  Billy takes the fish and he takes the money, he gives back beautiful fillets but no change.

Flip slept in the cemetery all summer, but now that the nights are cooler he has found refuge in a single room guesthouse in the back of a downtown home.  He used to be a short order cook, but a car accident left him with a head injury, a loss of capacity, a loss of job, a loss of home.  His new vocation is “caretaker” of the 50’x100’ estate, and he assists in handing out food at one of the local food banks.

Greg spent most of his 20s drunk on the streets of Anchorage, but his hitchhiking hobby got him a ride to Seward four years ago.  He has married, he has a newborn baby boy, is assistant coach for the Little League and works as a clerk at a hardware store.  He says he woke up one morning and discovered he wasn’t lost anymore, he was home.

One of the realities of living in a community the size of an average big city high school is the two-edge sword of having one degree of separation between all the residents.  We see the smiling photographs of the recently lost taped to the door of the post office, with the time of their memorials.  We know the families streets are named after, trips to the grocery store take half an hour longer than in Anchorage because of the social exchange, and most every week there is a fundraiser for someone who doesn’t have insurance that covers the affliction they are suffering.

When someone is having a difficult time, word gets out, help quietly rushes in.  A few slip through the cracks, especially the transient, but most the majority are lifted on the shoulders of the community and set down in a safe place.

*All names and some of the personal details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals this story discusses, but the people and their situations are all real.


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