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‘It Can Happen to Anyone’

‘It can happen to you’


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I remember a friend, who went from working on a master’s degree to living on the streets, once telling me, “Debbie, be careful. It can happen to anyone. It can happen to you.” He ended up dying on the streets – not here, but in a community far away where he lived part-time homeless and part-time with his mother.

Those words have always haunted me, and they do even more today.

Recently, I met a bright, vibrant woman full of ideas and vigor. She had a past life of purpose and professional success. But at 59, even with age discrimination laws in place, she found herself in a situation where few would hire her. She did manage to find part-time work, but still, the walls crumbled down around her.

She did not make enough to afford the rent, no matter how hard she tried, and neighbors complained about her pets and other tenant-related issues. She soon found herself without a home and four animals to take care of. Trying to find temporary homes for her dogs, at least until she could get herself back on her feet and into an apartment, seemed futile. One dog had issues only she was willing to deal with. An animal lover, she did not want to see her precious dog put down.

So as I write this, here we sit. Four dogs, a harried lady, and no place to put them. It’s a sad story. And even sadder when I learn more than 20 have died on the streets in Anchorage in about a year’s time. I wonder what will happen to her.

In Alaska, in 2008, 3,311 were homeless, according to statistics put out by the Alaska Justice Forum, which is part of the University of Alaska Anchorage system. We rank as one of the highest states in the nation for our homeless population.

And according to the report, titled “A Look at Homeless in Alaska,” in January 2009, based on a single-night count, the figures are even more astonishing. There were 4,583 homeless, 93 percent sheltered. About 7 percent were unsheltered (cars, parks, sidewalks, abandoned buildings, streets). Of the unsheltered, the report went on to state, 23.5 percent were households with children.

Anchorage has the highest homeless population, the report stated, nearly 65 percent. In 2009, the count of Anchorage homeless was 2,962.

“It can happen to anyone. It can happen to you.” Those haunting words come from the grave and into my heart. There’s only so much I or anyone can do.

I feel for this woman who right now is packing boxes to go who knows where and who knows when. I feel for her dogs. I feel for the dozen or so who have reached out their hands to help her, only to find a dead end.

I offer her a room for a few nights, sans dogs, but know even that must stop. Then I wonder. What if it happened to me, to my children, my family? Would there be help? Or would I be like this woman. A billion boxes, four dogs (her family) and nowhere to go, no place to call home.

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