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People living on the streets of Anchorage weigh in on plan for new homeless services

Folks living on the street have heard about the propositions to re-purpose a number of buildings for homeless services and share their thoughts.
Folks living on the street have heard about the propositions to re-purpose a number of buildings for homeless services and share their thoughts.(Taylor Clark)
Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 7:57 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After hours of testimony against the Anchorage Assembly’s plan to set up a number of new homeless services in old buildings, the vote was delayed. While much of their time has been spent in various areas of the city or at the Sullivan Arena mass shelter, the people who are experiencing homelessness know about the plan, and have plenty of opinions about it.

If the assembly votes to pass, there will be more places for the homeless community to get help, whether it be getting sober or getting a job. Additionally there would a new shelter in Midtown for them to stay at.

These aren’t new goals according to Felton Sarne, who said he’s been trying to stop drinking for over 20 years. He said after five addiction treatments for his alcoholism, he’s succeeded a few times but he ended up back on the streets.

Sarne said being homeless doesn’t help with going sober, or one’s humanity.

“You become a product of your environment,” he said. “You get shot, or you get stabbed. Over a bottle. Over a cigarette. That’s what it is. You become a beast. I’m a peaceful person, but it makes you an animal.”

Sarne said if they had it, he’d take “a magic pill that makes you not want alcohol.” While that’s not quite a reality, he said many in Anchorage’s homeless population need someone else to help them quit drugs and alcohol. However, it won’t work unless that person gives it a real shot.

“You can throw money at it all you want, but people will always make their own choice,” he said. “Once you get it in your heart to quit drinking, then yeah, it’ll be alright, but you can’t shove it down someone’s throat and say, ‘hey, quit drinking.’ No. It doesn’t work like that.”

Closer to downtown, Julia Vinuya closed her copy of the Bible to talk about her thoughts on Anchorage getting new services.

Vinuya described her current position in terms of the life that brought her there. She said she was all but destined to abuse drugs and alcohol like her mother did, with no father around to provide a different example. After going out on her own, she said she’d spent most of her life living on the streets of Anchorage or being incarcerated. All this, while trying to take care of her kids, but forming habits that made it almost impossible to take care of herself.

Over the years, she said she’s gotten help from homeless services and learned some ways to cope with the challenges in her life there and in prison, but has fallen again.

She agrees that only the people who want to change are going to benefit from services. However, she knows what it’s like to go from being someone who doesn’t care to someone who does.

“Something woke me up and I finally remembered some of the tools, what some people taught me,” She said. “You know I started recognizing my own stuff. I started accepting it. I started to work on it. I am working on it.”

Vinuya admitted that she still struggles with addiction and still uses from time to time, but she said “not like I used to.”

Like most homeless people in Anchorage, Vinuya said she knows plenty more than herself who need a helping hand. She wants to get off the streets and get her life together. However, she thinks that’s much more likely with some support from people with roofs over their head and effort from the people without one.

“I think they can work together,” she said. “I think that those that are able and have the knowledge and skills, they can work with them. You aren’t going to do nothing while your homeless except struggle if that’s what you choose. But if you want to get up out of it, how hard do you want to work.”

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