by Rhonda McBride
10:08 PM AKST, December 10, 2012
When Karluk Manor opened its doors on December 8th last year, some of the new tenants, who had spent years on the streets of Anchorage homeless, wondered if they were in a dream. The shiny floors and the newly furnished kitchenettes welcomed them.
Out of a waiting list of 150 residents, 46 were chosen. They were considered among the most hard core of Anchorage’s street alcoholics, known by police and others who work with this population as “frequent flyers,” because they spend many nights in hospital emergency rooms or at the sleep off center.
Here at Karluk Manor, which is operated by RurAL CAP, they would be allowed to drink alcohol, in hopes that a warm and safe place to stay, would stabilize them and help them drink less.
For some like Ed, who wants to be identified only by his first name, this has been the case. Ed says homelessness was a cycle that spurred him to drink more, so that he could get picked up by the Community Service Patrol, especially on cold nights.
“Me and my friend, we did it for a week and a half, said Ed. “We drank as much as we could, as fast as we could, just so I’d have a place to sleep.”
Like Ed himself, Karluk Manor remains a work in progress, still controversial because tenants are allowed to drink alcohol in their rooms.
During the past year, police investigated a rape and a stabbing. Karluk lost 10 of its residents. Five were evicted. Another five died, one off campus and four at Karluk Manor. After so many years of hard living and alcohol, it was too late to salvage their health.
“The streets are not a place to live,” said Melinda Freemon, director of the supported housing division for RurAL CAP. “And they are absolutely not an appropriate place to pass away.”
But Freemon said RurAL CAP expected that some of its tenants would die the first year, because that’s what happened at Seattle’s Eastlake housing program, which was the model for Karluk Manor. Freemon says the housing project had 75 tenants, and eight died in their first year.
Despite some of the setbacks, Anchorage Police are encouraged by what they’ve seen at Karluk Manor this year. So far, out of 71 calls to the police department, only 27 required a response.
Lt. Dave Parker called those numbers “phenomenal.”
“We have to keep in mind that those numbers are very low, considering that you’re dealing with a population that is most at risk on the street, so we’re really thrilled that these folks are not needing the kind of attention that they got previously,” said Parker. “Karluk Manor has not become the problem I think people thought it was going to become.”
RurAL CAP says police fielded a much higher volume of calls to the property, which is located on the corner of East 5th Avenue and Karluk Street, when it operated as the Red Roof Inn.
Also, in the year prior to living at Karluk Manor, each tenant averaged about a hundred contacts with law enforcement, the courts and the emergency medical system.
Before Karluk Manor opened, homeless experts estimated that a chronic homeless street alcoholic costs the city of Anchorage more than $60,000 a year, because of the intensive public safety services needed to deal with them. If that person winds up in jail, that cost drops to $40,000. Expenses per tenant at Karluk Manor are expected to be a little more than half that number.
Still, those who opposed the project from the beginning are unhappy.
Even though S.J. Klein, chairman of the Fairview Community Council, concedes that Karluk Manor has been well managed by RurAL CAP, he says it’s still not a good fit for the community.
“The neighborhood’s real problem is that Karluk Manor is in the middle of everything,” said Klein, who objects to the concentration of social services, which includes Bean’s Café, Brother Francis Shelter and other programs for alcoholics.
“It creates kind of a center for services, but on the other side, you’re creating a real economic dead zone,” said Klein.
Although the Lucky Wishbone restaurant, popular for its fried chicken and heaping servings of fries and onion rings, always seems full of customers, the manager says the high numbers of street alcoholics who frequent the area are hurting business.
“The nature of the people has changed as our society has changed,” said Heidi Heinrich, who has worked at the restaurant for 32 years and is now its manager. “The behavior is more aggressive, more lewd.”
Heinrich says some of the behavior includes sex acts carried out in broad daylight in the restaurant’s parking lot, which a customer recently observed.
“And this is a woman with children,” said Heinrich. “This happened to her as she was coming into the restaurant. How many more times is she going to come back with her kids. That’s not family behavior.”
And while Heinrich says most of the problems at the Lucky Wishbone do not involve Karluk Manor tenants, she believes it isn’t good for them to live in a neighborhood with heavy foot traffic from hard core street drunks.
“It’s very hard to diet when you have a refrigerator full of cake and pudding,” said Heinrich.
(Editor’s note: Tomorrow a look at life inside Karluk Manor and one man’s struggle for sobriety.)
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