The youngest of the 355 homeless people surveyed this week in Anchorage are 19. The oldest: 77. Almost one in four are veterans. Nearly half of those identified as the most at risk are Alaska Native. Eighteen reported having cancer.
The 355 respondents reported a total of 540 emergency room visits in the past three months. The top five ER users had more than 100 visits combined.
More than four in five said they had been jailed at some point in their lives. Forty percent said they had been the target of violence since becoming homeless.
Dozens of volunteers spread out through Anchorage this week in a first-of-its-kind survey here to identify the city's homeless and the most vulnerable among them. They announced the hard numbers Friday.
The survey -- called Anchorage Registry Week and conducted as part of a greater national effort called the 100,000 Homes Campaign -- involved more than 100 surveyors. Some went to camps in the woods, while others focused on more centralized locations, including Covenant House and the Brother Francis Shelter, during the early morning hours Tuesday and Wednesday.
Many of the nine wooded locations with camps had previously been scouted out during daylight hours but the 33-question surveys were filled out between 4 and 7 a.m. That's when the transitory street population was most stationary, preventing duplicate surveys and allowing volunteers to talk to the most people, organizers said.
The group found the 355 homeless people, 161 of whom were identified as "vulnerable" based on medical conditions and other criteria. There are likely many more without permanent housing, including extended families piling into homes together temporarily, people in transitional housing, and anyone hospitalized during the survey, leaders of the local campaign said.
In spite of the early wake-ups, most of the campers were hospitable, said volunteer Summer Lefebvre, who works at Alaska Mental Health Consumer Web. The scariest part was wondering if a bear or moose would pop out of the woods, she said.
People living at one camp even brought out a better light so she would have an easier time filling out the questionnaire, she said.
"They were at first reluctant and then welcoming," Lefebvre said. "There was kind of an excitement on some level that somebody was paying attention."
"There was even concern about our safety, like, 'What are you guys doing out here?' " said Rob Marx, Lefebvre's coworker and a fellow volunteer.
But it was the vulnerability of the men and women sleeping outside that was on the group's mind, said Trevor Storrs, who, with campaign chairwoman Corrine O'Neill, presented the group's findings Friday inside the Wilda Marston Theatre at the Z.J. Loussac Library. The idea was not only to get a count of Anchorage's homeless but to compile a list of those who most need reliable housing, he said.
The questionnaire data were plunked into a "vulnerability matrix" developed by national homelessness researchers that shows which individuals are at the highest risk of dying, Storrs said.
Among the local findings:
• 74 percent are men
• 23 percent had been in foster care as juveniles
• Another 23 percent are military veterans
• 40 percent were Alaska Native, who composed 49 percent of the most at-risk among the overall group
• 38 percent reported dual diagnoses of mental illness and substance abuse
• 46 percent reported a trifecta of substance abuse, mental illness and at least one chronic health condition
• 34 percent suffer from liver or kidney disease
• 5 percent reported having cancer
• 45 percent had a high school diploma or GED
• Half reported having no medical insurance
"There's a lot of things they're dealing with and we want to know who they are," Storrs said. "They are the ones who are truly costing our community, if we think about it on a financial level only, a lot of dollars. But they're also the ones with the greatest need."
The average age of death for homeless people in the United States is 55, about 25 years less than Americans who aren't homeless, he said.
"Life is fragile, and it's especially fragile for these individuals," Storrs said.
The group's next step is to push for more housing options and cheaper housing, he said. They hope to get the five most vulnerable individuals out of the woods and off the streets first, and other names will be forwarded to various social services around the city.
That includes Karluk Manor, a facility in Fairview set to open in November that will house 46 people without the condition of sobriety, according to the city. The list compiled Tuesday and Wednesday will be integrated with names of homeless people already identified and being considered for Karluk Manor, Storrs said.
Meantime, more housing units and subsidies to bring down their cost are needed, Storrs said.
Reach Casey Grove at email@example.com or 257-4589.