Man found dead in room at home for chronic alcoholics

Kyle Hopkins

A 54-year-old man died New Year's Day at a much-debated new home for chronic alcoholics in Anchorage, police say.

The death comes less than a month after the Dec. 8 opening of Karluk Manor, a "Housing First" program where homeless people are allowed to drink in their private efficiency apartments. The 46-unit center is run by the nonprofit Rural CAP and was opened after a series of deaths among Anchorage homeless in parks, trails and camps over the past two years.

At about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, employees making a regular hourly check found resident John Kort unresponsive in his apartment and called 911, said Melinda Freemon, RurAl CAP director of supportive housing.

"We're glad that Mr. Kort was safely housed and was able to die with dignity, if he had to pass away," she said.

No foul play is suspected in the death, said police spokeswoman Marlene Lammers. Police were told that the man had passed out and appeared to be intoxicated, she said.

"Exact cause of death will be determined by the medical examiner's office," she said. "But we believe that alcohol and maybe prescription drugs may have been a factor in his death."

Karluk Manor operates under a model that allows residents to drink in their rooms in hopes that a warm bed and safe place to stay will encourage successful recovery. The plan is also meant to reduce costly emergency room visits and arrests. Much of the rent is paid by federal funding funneled through the Alaska Housing Finance Corp., Freemon said.

While the approach has met with success Outside, critics worried that the free or low-cost housing would bring more alcoholics to Fairview and remove the incentive for people to clean up on their own.

Kristy Crosby lives in the neighborhood surrounding Karluk Manor and watched the police cars and ambulances circle the building Sunday. Crosby said she and some other neighbors are concerned the program will lead to inebriates being struck by cars along nearby streets, violence within the apartments or lawsuits due to death or injury.

"Is this in the best interest of these guys, to put them in a place where they can comfortably drink themselves to death?" she asked.

Freemon said Karluk Manor officials knew people would die at the center. The residents are end-stage alcoholics -- some of whom have lived on the streets for decades.

Rescuers were unable to revive Kort, who Freemon says was living on the streets of Anchorage before moving into Karluk Manor. He had lived at the Fifth Avenue center, located in a former motel on the edge of downtown, for two weeks or more before his death, she said.

The death underscores the need for early intervention for chronic alcoholics, she said.

"He was just not able to get well from his alcoholism," Freemon said. "Many people will be able to, but he was not."

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