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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Alaskan deaths raise alarm

October 01 2009
Homeless deaths in Anchorage worry residents and police A string of homeless deaths in Anchorage, Alaska, USA, has raised alarm among residents and police. In total, 12 people died on the streets during the spring and summer alone, seven of whom were native Alaskans. The oldest, Eugene Williams, 69, was found dead in his sleeping bag with an empty bottle of liquor next to him. The youngest, Elouise Okakok, 25 and the only woman to have died, was understood to have shared half a gallon of vodka with her boyfriend the previous night. One man was beaten to death, one hit by a truck and another man drowned in Campbell Creek. The common link appears to be alcohol. At least four died because of heavy drinking and that number may grow when investigations have been completed. Melinda Freemon, director of Homeward Bound, told The Pavement that the deaths were caused by "the long-term health effects of chronic alcoholism and the cumulative effect of years of living in unsafe conditions". However, rumours have spread among the homeless community that the deaths were prompted by "a helping hand." Arlene Oscar, who is now at Homeward Bound, an Anchorage rehabilitation programme, claims people have been offering vodka laced with a type of poison. Toxicology tests were done on all the Anchorage homeless who died this spring and summer. Various drugs and medication were traced, in many of the cases, but signs of any unknown poisonous substance were not. Police are finding it hard to compare 2009's figure with previous years, as no official records have been kept. In 2006, an estimated 13 people died outdoors. Staff at a soup kitchen keep a list on the wall "in memoriam" of those who have died on the streets each year. The Alaska Native Health Board has urged the Anchorage mayor, police and other advocacy organisations to join them in a task force "to develop solutions and take action to prevent such violent crimes and deaths in the future."