After winter lull, homeless outdoor deaths are again mounting in Anchorage

After a hopeful, months-long lull, Anchorage homeless outdoor death numbers are again up, but happening at a slower pace than last year’s record toll.

Ten people have died in what are considered outdoor deaths in 2024, according to data from the Anchorage Police Department. By this time last year, 18 unhoused people had died outside.

Most of the deaths occurred in clusters: In April, four people were found dead in a three-day period. And on May 2, three homeless men were declared dead in different parts of the city — in less than 90 minutes.

One was discovered in a tent in Russian Jack Springs Park. Another was found dead on the ground downtown. Police found a third on a trail in Muldoon, a spent Narcan cartridge nearby.

Police define an outdoor death as a person who dies outside with no fixed address at the time of their death. Experts say the definition is imperfect because homelessness can be a fluid state. The measure is an incomplete chronicle of the mortality of unhoused people in Anchorage, missing deaths in hospitals, homicides and vehicle collisions, among others. But as Anchorage continues to debate solutions to ongoing homelessness, political leaders and citizens have said preventing such deaths is a priority.

In 2023, 52 people died in what were classified as outdoor deaths in Anchorage, demolishing records and drawing national attention. The first few months of 2024 suggested something had changed: The city only recorded a single outdoor death, that of a 40-year-old man who was found dead at Folker Park in January.

City officials and homeless service workers attributed the decline to more people being in indoor shelters, but warned that spring has historically been a time when homeless deaths rise.


On the evening of March 31, the deaths resumed when a 60-year-old woman was found not breathing in a tent near the edge of Russian Jack Park. Police recorded four deaths in April, all of which unfolded between April 21-24. Police noted that “drugs and drug paraphernalia” had been found at the scene of each of the four deaths, though causes of death are not public in Alaska.

Alexis Johnson, the city’s housing and homeless coordinator, said she had been notified about the three deaths that happened between 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. on May 2, and had been told a “bad batch” of fentanyl was circulating.

Johnson also believes that indoor shelter is key to keeping outdoor deaths down. During the winter months, hundreds of people were in city-overseen shelters or hotel rooms, and therefore living near other people trained in overdose response and to intervene in medical crisis, Johnson said.

People have been moving outside, both because the weather is warming and because the city is winding down winter shelter operations, Johnson said. In tents and on trails, that oversight falls away.

Right now, 157 people are living in non-congregate shelter sites at the Aviator Hotel. An additional 193 people are at a city-operated mass shelter at the former Solid Waste Services administrative building on East 56th Avenue.

As of right now, the Bronson administration says, those people will be on the streets starting June 1 without additional funding. It’s not yet clear whether funding from the Alaska Legislature or other sources, such as the Anchorage Assembly, will allow the mass shelter to keep operating past the end of the month.

No matter what it’s likely that more people will be camping outside this summer, Johnson said, which comes with a risk of increased outdoor deaths.

If everyone currently in a shelter ends up camping outside “that’s 300 more people in tents,” she said. “That’s 300 more opportunities for people to overdose, or to have a health concern.”

• • •

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.