Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Homeless in Haines: Help sparse for indigents

 


By John M. Glionna

Nobody really knows how Ken McDowell ended up in Haines, or precisely when he got here.

His pup tent was spotted following the mid-October snowfall, pitched at Portage Cove wayside. A longtime resident checked on him, bought him a cup of hot chocolate, listened to his story and loaned him a winter-weight sleeping bag.

McDowell, 50, was lean, with a scruffy beard. A decade after reportedly suffering a stroke, he had difficulty speaking and communicated with pen and paper.

McDowell said he had been a mechanic in a nuclear power plant. He’d left Tampa, Fla., three months earlier on his bike with an attached trailer, and set off to visit the nuclear facilities in Chernobyl, Ukraine and Fukushima, Japan.

His bike broke down in Haines Junction, Y.T., he explained.

Every year, a handful of homeless people arrive here.

Several agencies, including Haines Ministerial Association, Salvation Army and Southeast Alaska Independent Living, have set up an outreach protocol. Haines Borough police dispatchers have been directed to call the Salvation Army or a church group if a person is picked up by officers or walks into the station.

About a dozen people each year take advantage of the services, which involve a free night in a local motel and ferry passage to Juneau, which has homeless shelters to accommodate them.

Some walk off the ferry with no money to get back on. They make camps off local trails, under docks or in the woods near town, residents say.

Ron Horn, minister at the Haines Presbyterian Church and a former head of the town’s Ministerial Association, said the group has less than $1,000 a year to help needy visitors.

Lt. Kevin Woods of the local Salvation Army post said the federal funding he received last year amounted to about $200. “That’s just about enough to put someone up in a hotel for two nights around here,” he said. “It’s not enough.”

But still the down-and-out come, mostly in the summer, but in the winter as well. Horn received calls about three homeless visitors in one week alone.

“It goes in waves,” he said. “Sometimes, we’ll see two or three in a month. And then we won’t see another one for a month or two.”

Many, he said, are chasing dreams based on bad information about the magic of Alaska.

“People hear that jobs are plentiful in Alaska. They’ve heard that the Permanent Fund Dividend is a free handout for everyone,” Horn said. “They come expecting something that doesn’t happen. They spend all their money getting to Haines and then it runs out.”

Others don’t realize that the road from Haines to Anchorage runs through Canada. Without passports, they get stuck.

Sierra Jimenez, assistant director of the nonprofit Southeast Alaska Independent Living, said her group helps a handful of travelers marooned in Haines. “Everybody’s an individual and their stories are different,” she said. “We meet them where they’re at.”

She said the group connects people with services with a fund to help them with temporary living expenses. “The maximum anyone can get is $500,” Jimenez said. “The average is about $100.”

Jackie Mazeikas, who runs Becky’s Place – Haven of Hope, a Haines shelter for domestic abuse victims, tries to do her part. “Some have mental issues,” she said.

“I find them a place if I can,” Mazeikas said. “Usually I bring them a warm blanket or some food. If I take them to the shelter, I could have a situation arise where I have no room for an abused woman and her children.”

Leigh Horner has lived near the Chilkat Center for more than 15 years and has spotted tents pitched in the woods behind her home.

She says the numbers have increased in recent years.

“There’s a convenient path back there along which the homeless can camp out,” she said.

Many leave behind garbage for residents to clean up. At night, when her lights are on, she knows they’re out there.

When she sees a trespasser, she calls the police. “It’s scary,” she said. “They can see me but I can’t see them. Where do they go to the bathroom? They’re living for extended periods on private property.”

Haines Police officer Chris Brown said he thought McDowell had a drinking problem the first time he encountered him at Portage Cove campground. He quickly realized the visitor had suffered a stroke and complained of other health issues.

As the weather worsened, Brown dropped off extra blankets for McDowell. When he saw him on the street, he’d give him a ride back to Portage Cove. Eventually, he said, he moved out of the park. “We didn’t kick him out,” Brown said. “There’s another guy who’s been there awhile. We don’t know what his plans are.”

Local bartenders said McDowell became a regular as the weather turned – not necessarily to drink but to get warm. “He’d come in nightly when we were open,” said Kevin Thompson, who works at the Pioneer Bar. “He’d have a beer and a mixed drink and then go on his way.”

Carole Ridge, a bartender at the Fogcutter, said McDowell came in as soon as she opened at 9 a.m. and drank a few cups of coffee. “He had a hard time talking; he’d spit the words out,” she said. “When he got excited, he’d have to point at things.”

“And then one day he was gone.”

Several weeks ago, Woods said, his wife Serina spotted someone sleeping under a tarp behind the Salvation Army building on Union Street.

He found McDowell there with his bike and trailer parked nearby. “He’d been around town awhile – I’m surprised I hadn’t seen him before,” he said.

Woods went out and talked with the newcomer. He bought him a cup of coffee. Struggling to speak, McDowell wrote notes.

“He told me he was trying to get to Russia,” Woods said. “I told him he’d picked a bad time of the year to be going north in Alaska.”

Woods said he could offer passage to Juneau, where there were shelters. “I said, ‘I could help you go south; that’s all I can offer you.’ There was no way I was helping him go the other way.”

McDowell stayed that night at the Captain’s Choice Motel, where Woods places many down-and-out visitors.

“His hands were cracked and probably frostbitten,” Woods said. “I hate to see people like that, because I’ve been there. When the Army picked me up off the streets decades ago, I was living under a bridge in Lodi, California.”

The next morning, Woods escorted McDowell to the ferry terminal. He watched him roll his bike onboard with all his earthly possessions.

He wished him luck.

A Salvation Army colleague was due to meet McDowell in Juneau and take him to the Glory Hole homeless shelter.

Woods said a Salvation Army worker in Juneau dropped McDowell off in front of the Glory Hole. “He even helped him unload his bike,” he said.

But Glory Hole facility coordinator Michael Orr said he had no record of McDowell.

He doubts he ever checked in.By John M. Glionna

Nobody really knows how Ken McDowell ended up in Haines, or precisely when he got here.

His pup tent was spotted following the mid-October snowfall, pitched at Portage Cove wayside. A longtime resident checked on him, bought him a cup of hot chocolate, listened to his story and loaned him a winter-weight sleeping bag.

McDowell, 50, was lean, with a scruffy beard. A decade after reportedly suffering a stroke, he had difficulty speaking and communicated with pen and paper.

McDowell said he had been a mechanic in a nuclear power plant. He’d left Tampa, Fla., three months earlier on his bike with an attached trailer, and set off to visit the nuclear facilities in Chernobyl, Ukraine and Fukushima, Japan.

His bike broke down in Haines Junction, Y.T., he explained.

Every year, a handful of homeless people arrive here.

Several agencies, including Haines Ministerial Association, Salvation Army and Southeast Alaska Independent Living, have set up an outreach protocol. Haines Borough police dispatchers have been directed to call the Salvation Army or a church group if a person is picked up by officers or walks into the station.

About a dozen people each year take advantage of the services, which involve a free night in a local motel and ferry passage to Juneau, which has homeless shelters to accommodate them.

Some walk off the ferry with no money to get back on. They make camps off local trails, under docks or in the woods near town, residents say.

Ron Horn, minister at the Haines Presbyterian Church and a former head of the town’s Ministerial Association, said the group has less than $1,000 a year to help needy visitors.

Lt. Kevin Woods of the local Salvation Army post said the federal funding he received last year amounted to about $200. “That’s just about enough to put someone up in a hotel for two nights around here,” he said. “It’s not enough.”

But still the down-and-out come, mostly in the summer, but in the winter as well. Horn received calls about three homeless visitors in one week alone.

“It goes in waves,” he said. “Sometimes, we’ll see two or three in a month. And then we won’t see another one for a month or two.”

Many, he said, are chasing dreams based on bad information about the magic of Alaska.

“People hear that jobs are plentiful in Alaska. They’ve heard that the Permanent Fund Dividend is a free handout for everyone,” Horn said. “They come expecting something that doesn’t happen. They spend all their money getting to Haines and then it runs out.”

Others don’t realize that the road from Haines to Anchorage runs through Canada. Without passports, they get stuck.

Sierra Jimenez, assistant director of the nonprofit Southeast Alaska Independent Living, said her group helps a handful of travelers marooned in Haines. “Everybody’s an individual and their stories are different,” she said. “We meet them where they’re at.”

She said the group connects people with services with a fund to help them with temporary living expenses. “The maximum anyone can get is $500,” Jimenez said. “The average is about $100.”

Jackie Mazeikas, who runs Becky’s Place – Haven of Hope, a Haines shelter for domestic abuse victims, tries to do her part. “Some have mental issues,” she said.

“I find them a place if I can,” Mazeikas said. “Usually I bring them a warm blanket or some food. If I take them to the shelter, I could have a situation arise where I have no room for an abused woman and her children.”

Leigh Horner has lived near the Chilkat Center for more than 15 years and has spotted tents pitched in the woods behind her home.

She says the numbers have increased in recent years.

“There’s a convenient path back there along which the homeless can camp out,” she said.

Many leave behind garbage for residents to clean up. At night, when her lights are on, she knows they’re out there.

When she sees a trespasser, she calls the police. “It’s scary,” she said. “They can see me but I can’t see them. Where do they go to the bathroom? They’re living for extended periods on private property.”

Haines Police officer Chris Brown said he thought McDowell had a drinking problem the first time he encountered him at Portage Cove campground. He quickly realized the visitor had suffered a stroke and complained of other health issues.

As the weather worsened, Brown dropped off extra blankets for McDowell. When he saw him on the street, he’d give him a ride back to Portage Cove. Eventually, he said, he moved out of the park. “We didn’t kick him out,” Brown said. “There’s another guy who’s been there awhile. We don’t know what his plans are.”

Local bartenders said McDowell became a regular as the weather turned – not necessarily to drink but to get warm. “He’d come in nightly when we were open,” said Kevin Thompson, who works at the Pioneer Bar. “He’d have a beer and a mixed drink and then go on his way.”

Carole Ridge, a bartender at the Fogcutter, said McDowell came in as soon as she opened at 9 a.m. and drank a few cups of coffee. “He had a hard time talking; he’d spit the words out,” she said. “When he got excited, he’d have to point at things.”

“And then one day he was gone.”

Several weeks ago, Woods said, his wife Serina spotted someone sleeping under a tarp behind the Salvation Army building on Union Street.

He found McDowell there with his bike and trailer parked nearby. “He’d been around town awhile – I’m surprised I hadn’t seen him before,” he said.

Woods went out and talked with the newcomer. He bought him a cup of coffee. Struggling to speak, McDowell wrote notes.

“He told me he was trying to get to Russia,” Woods said. “I told him he’d picked a bad time of the year to be going north in Alaska.”

Woods said he could offer passage to Juneau, where there were shelters. “I said, ‘I could help you go south; that’s all I can offer you.’ There was no way I was helping him go the other way.”

McDowell stayed that night at the Captain’s Choice Motel, where Woods places many down-and-out visitors.

“His hands were cracked and probably frostbitten,” Woods said. “I hate to see people like that, because I’ve been there. When the Army picked me up off the streets decades ago, I was living under a bridge in Lodi, California.”

The next morning, Woods escorted McDowell to the ferry terminal. He watched him roll his bike onboard with all his earthly possessions.

He wished him luck.

A Salvation Army colleague was due to meet McDowell in Juneau and take him to the Glory Hole homeless shelter.

Woods said a Salvation Army worker in Juneau dropped McDowell off in front of the Glory Hole. “He even helped him unload his bike,” he said.

But Glory Hole facility coordinator Michael Orr said he had no record of McDowell.

He doubts he ever checked in.

 
 

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019