It can happen here: Don’t stigmatize homelessness

homeless, homeless camp

I have written before about my sister’s murder. In the summer of 2016, she and four other people were killed by the serial killer James Dale Ritchie. The killings were senseless and unexplainable. The families continue to mourn and wonder why such terrible events occur here in Alaska.

But my sister, Brianna, was already trapped in a terrible tragedy long before her death. She was a street person, drifting between couch-surfing, institutionalization, and homelessness. Brianna had run-ins with the law and sometimes sold drugs to get by. From time to time, she would be on my family’s doorstep, but only for brief periods of time before she either was evicted or left of her own accord.

Brianna was one of many people, many of whom are either young or elderly, who could not get access to the quality of help she needed. We can blame her own personal choices, her environment or the society she lived in. But she no matter the circumstances, she was a patient for treatment that was not available.

Alaska’s homeless and addicted remain our most vulnerable population. They are more likely to suffer abuse, illness, deprivation and fatality than anyone else in the state. There are few resources to help them; it’s common knowledge that our shelters are full and our assistance is thin. Though many caring and concerned Alaskans give their time and assets to protecting and helping the vulnerable, these treatments only aid the unfortunate and do not remove the problem.

In addition, the homeless and transient are not respected people. They are feared and scorned. The places where they gather for meals and shelter remain under scrutiny and sometimes attack by angry property owners. The camps they erect are evicted and removed. As crime becomes a greater crisis for Alaskan policymakers, more and more voices are calling for action against the homeless and addicted. Though violent people do populate the streets of Alaska, it is the people on the streets who are most in danger.

Our country, like much of the Western world, is grappling with a crisis of identity. People are angry, confused, and afraid of what is happening. People like our current president are pointing fingers to try and pin down the problem. Sometimes Muslims are blamed, sometimes Jews, sometimes African-Americans and frequently immigrants. But whoever the blame falls hardest on is considered a danger. A group of people are said to be the root of our problems, and they must be dealt with.

It can happen here. Alaska is a part of the United States, and we’re caught up in the rest of human history. As more and more problems place pressure on our state, it will be easier to point fingers at certain people in society to explain our frustrations. Alaska is grappling with crime, homelessness and addiction, which means it will be easy to gripe about the transients of our streets. But we shouldn’t blame the expression of the problem; we should blame the problem itself.


Ryan Foisy is an educator and writer living in Palmer.

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