ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Four people believed to be homeless have died outdoors in Anchorage as winter weather descended on the city over the past week.
Two of the men shared the same name – Alfred – and were both wheelchair users. They were found 24 hours apart in bustling places: on a busy Midtown corner, and in a doorway of a downtown gift shop across the street from the log cabin visitor center.
The Anchorage Daily News uses incident reports from the Anchorage Police Department to track the deaths of people found outside with no fixed address at the time of their deaths. The data fails to capture every death of a person experiencing homelessness in the city, and homelessness is a fluid state. The data does not include people who die in homicides, in hospitals or in vehicle accidents. City leaders have said preventing such deaths is a priority.
Hundreds of people have been living unsheltered in Anchorage since the Sullivan Arena shelter closed in the spring. This month, the city has been moving people into hundreds of noncongregate hotel rooms as well as a hastily set-up shelter in a former Solid Waste Services building on the Old Seward Highway. Still, several hundred people were estimated to be camping this week when freezing temperatures and snow swept through Anchorage.
On Sunday, Alfred Koonaloak was found dead in a doorway of a gift shop on F Street off Fourth Avenue where he regularly slept, said Richard “Ziggy” Zeigler, a longtime downtown business owner who said he knew Koonaloak for years. He was 61.
“He was kind,” said Zeigler, who completed a mural in Town Square Park this summer that Koonaloak worked on. “People listened to him.”
Koonaloak told Alaska Public Media earlier this year that he had stayed at Sullivan Arena in the past, had lost his leg to a train accident and was hoping to find housing.
“If I don’t get housing, that’s OK,” he said in the Alaska Public Media story. “At least I’m still alive and making it throughout the winter. … I’ve been sleeping outside for years.
Earlier this week, a bouquet of carnations marked the doorway where he died. Someone had written “RIP Uncle Al” on the wall.
A day earlier, on Saturday, police found another man named Alfred, also in a wheelchair, dead near the corner of A Street and 31st Avenue in Midtown Anchorage, near the Walmart parking lot. Alfred Pungalik was 56.
In both cases, police narratives noted nothing suspicious was found at the scene.
Little was publicly known about the men, but relatives wrote online that they were fundraising for memorial services and that the man had been loved by family members.
On Monday, Neil Nelson, 36, was found dead in a tent near the Cuddy Park encampment, according to police.
On Thursday, a woman died when her makeshift shelter caught fire near Brayton Drive south of Tudor Road during a major snowstorm. Fire officials said a small heat source may have caused the fire. She has not been identified.
The medical examiner’s office does not release the cause of death for individuals publicly. But a medical examiner analysis of this year’s Anchorage outdoor deaths found that the three most common causes were, in order, drug-related overdose, cardiac arrest and hypothermia.
A record 49 people have died unsheltered in Anchorage this year.