Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Homeless in Alaska

Cold Alaskan DaySo you want a good story?

An acquaintance of ours was sleeping early last Saturday morning when her son, age 11, came into their bedroom and shook her gently.

"Mom! Mom!" he whispered, "There's someone in the bathroom."

"Oh it's just your sister," she said groggily before rolling over, "go back to bed."

"No Mom, it's not Jessica, there's someone in the bathroom!"

The boy kept at it for a minute or two until she finally woke up and the child's words got through to her brain. She decided she'd better get up and see what was going on so she went to the bathroom door and knocked.

"Jessica--are you in there?"

No answer.

"Jessica!"

She turned the knob and pushed open the door but it hit against something. She pushed on it, prying it open enough so she could see through the crack to the bathroom mirror. (This would be the point where the scary music would start playing--just for point of reference.) There, reflected in the glass was the image of someone who was definitely NOT her daughter.

She panicked a bit and ran to call the police (her husband slept through it all) then ran back to the bathroom where she pushed her way in. Bent over the bathroom sink, clutching the sides of the bowl and swaying back and forth was a naked woman, moaning and grunting and muttering to herself.

(So far so good? Are you gasping yet?)

Anyway, it quickly became apparent to our friend that the woman was completely drunk and didn't know where she was. The best guess is that the woman was homeless and had been wandering in the neighborhood when she found an open door and stumbled into the house.

The woman was in the final stages of hypothermia. In one of those odd biological twists, it's common for hypothermic people to have the delusion that they are burning up with fever--I'm not sure why the body does this, but it's this weird trick that nature plays--and it's not unusual to find people who are freezing to death stripping their clothes off.

The clues suggested that after the woman had stripped naked she stumbled downstairs to the family room couch where the boy was sleeping (apparently he sometimes gets up and moves down to the couch on Saturday mornings) and she woke him up but then went up to the bathroom. It was then that the boy went to get Mom.

By the time the police got there our friends had wrapped the woman up in a bathrobe and were trying to warm her. The police asked if they wanted to press charges but they of course said no.

What a story! But the funny thing is, although I'm obviously glad no one was hurt and hope this goes as a lesson to people who don't bother to lock their doors at night (especially with children in the house) I can't help but think that how fortunate it was that their door was open. They could have just as easily awoken to find the poor woman frozen to death in their front yard.

I'm glad they were able to prevent such a tragedy but it also made me wonder where the woman slept last night? Was she wandering the streets again, nearly frozen or drunk like the night before? Helping her one night surely won't solve the bigger, more tragic, problem.

Whenever the temperatures drop and I hurry to my cold car, praying for the engine to warm up or whenever I walk outside and the air is so cold it hurts to breathe and the snow crunches like Styrofoam when I step on it I'm always reminded of those who don't have the luxury of a warm house and soft bed, those who wander around town all day until the homeless shelter opens for the night.

What must it be like to be homeless in Alaska? Where is that woman now?

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58 comments:

my4kids said...

Of course we don't get as cold here in Ketchikan but it does get chilly. There is actually a homeless camp just above the cemetary here. I find it kind of an odd place to set it up.....
That would have been very scary though to wake up too!

Kris said...

HOLY CRAP! I think I would pass out from fright knowing someone was in my bathroom...perhaps it being a woman helped a little bit.

Homeless in Alaska would be very similar to my hometown in Alberta Caanda. TOO cold, too amny people dying of exposure. Perhaps when we start worrying more about taking care of thos ein our own backyards (in this case literally) instead of trying to solve everyone elses' problems in the world we might get somewhere with the helping the homeless in a meaningful way.

The Source said...

Your friend reacted with such compassion. I'm afraid I would have gone into panic mode, grabbed my kids, and run screaming from the house. A sad situation, but what a blessing your friend's door was open.

Antique Mommy said...

That is an astonishing story. I'm not sure what I would have done, that is after I fainted. I'm the kind of person who checks the doors 75 times to make sure they are locked before I go to bed.

luvmy4sons said...

Wow. That is truly an amazing story. I can't imagine my shock. Even here in Ohio I think about the homeless during the winter. We have lots of shelters, but still you know some are out in the cold. Makes you grateful for the basics of life that you can often take for granted!

Beth said...

What an interesting story. If you ever find out what happened to that poor woman, please let us know!

ewe are here said...

Wow. I'm glad the story had a happy ending, in the sense that she didn't die from hypothermia, but wow. It could have all gone horribly differently in any variety of ways...

thordora said...

Wow. that's....insanity. But I'm glad they were there for her, and hopefully she can get some help for whatever ails her.

It gets DAMN cold here-I can't imagine wandering around lost in the cold some nights....

Edi said...

Yikes! Needless to say I would not have handled it all so calmly. Instead of pushing my way into the bathroom I would have been pushing the furniture against the door to keep whomever was in there, inside! Then would have called the police.

It may be crazy to some - but I do keep my doors locked even during the day...

dcrmom said...

Oh my gosh how frightening!!! And I agree, what will happen to that poor woman. Wow. We always lock our doors, but now I will be extra careful.

Irene said...

That would FREAK me out. But you are right, that poor woman - what would have happened if the door was locked. So scary and so sad...

Babystepper said...

I guess I assumed you didn't have a large homeless population in Anchorage.

What a terrifying thing to wake up to! My husband's aunt and uncle were woken up by there five or six yr. old daughter, similarly, in the middle of the night. She said there was someone under her bed. They didn't believe her at first, but she insisted. Sure enough, a drunk man was passed out under her bed. He'd gotten into the house earlier when no one was home. (They live on a farm/dairy)

Karen said...

Pass the Depends - I would have wet myself.

I've often wondered what homeless people do when the temperatures dipped below freezing. Your friend's reaction was with such compassion...I don't know how I would have really reacted, and honestly? I hope I never have to find out...

Janet said...

What a sad story. I don't quite understand homeless shelters that turn people out during the day. It's not that much warmer, and what if they wander around and can't find their way back that night? We have one homeless shelter here, but they have restrictions on who they'll take, and drunks need not apply. It only holds about 10 people, and there is enough need that they can make those rules. But the drunks and drug addicts are in just as much need, if not more so, than the others. I agree with kris - it's time to start taking care of our own. We do try with Scott's organization, but they figured out that where they build 20-30 houses a year, the need is in the hundreds.

Summer said...

They were both very lucky indeed. The woman that the door was unlocked and the family that she was not a child molester or something along those lines. I hope that family starts locking their doors. I can't believe that people don't lock their doors in this day, no matter where they live.

SabineM said...

wow what a scary and sad story!
Homeless in Alaska. I never thought there would be any....too harsh! Homeless people are very happy in the beach communities such as Santa Barbara and Santa Monica. The weather is almost always the same....not as drastic as your temperatures!

Your friend was amazing, I think I would have been in panic mode...maybe it is because I am in California...

I agree with Kris (comment above)....we do need to take care of our own! WE have SOO many people that fall through the cracks in this country (by that I mean, they are not crazy enough to be in an institution, but not sane enough to hold down a job and take care of themselves...)

Beck said...

Your friend sounds wonderfully compassionate. Homelessness feels extra brutal in areas like ours, that experience intese cold.

Teachin' this mommy new tricks! said...

Oh how sad. That kind of choked me up...but how scary! I would never have tried to get the door open! I would have just called the cops and hid! So has some guts!

Maria said...

Wow, that's scary! It makes me glad I ALWAYS remember to lock my doors at night. But you're right, it was a good thing their door was open. They may haved saved a life! It was worth it this time!
Maria

Maddy said...

Yes that is a brain dilemma.
Best wishes

tjhirst said...

All I can say is wow. It almost doesn't seem real. If it is anything like Minnesota's biting cold, which I am sure it is and worse, this woman was very fortunate to have found your friend.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

(GASP!)

That's one of the craziest stories I've ever heard. I truly don't understand why people don't lock their doors. Maybe I'm just too much of a city girl, but when we moved to a small town a few years back, I was stunned at all my friends who said they never locked their doors -- day or night. CRAZY!

Anyway. Like you said, it was providence that the doors weren't locked that night. Being homeless in a cold climate like Alaska (or Minnesota) is plain dangerous.

Melissa Markham said...

At first, I was thinking there would be some kind of animal in the bathroom. The woman is so very lucky that she found someone to help her instead of someone who shot first and asked questions later.

Amy said...

Now that would have scared the poop out of me. Your friend is very brave- I would have been freaking it out.

I can't imagine being homeless in Indiana, let alone in Alaska. Brrr....

Julie said...

Wow - what an incredible story. No doubt the woman's life was saved. Perhaps the kindness of your friend's gentle response and receiving a robe made the woman realize someone really cared.

Cuz really, we all need to know someone cares.

Scribbit said...

Okay let's respond to a few comments--

Yes, there are plenty of homeless people here. I can't speak for Fairbanks, but I would assume there are plenty of people without homes there too.

Like most cities, a majority of the homeless people are those struggling with addictions and mental illness and some who happen to just be down on their luck. The kids will sometimes ask me about why people don't have homes and beds to sleep in and I try to explain it so they learn some compassion.

I've always thought though that if I was in their situation hitch hiking or walking to California would have to be easier than a winter here. The shelters take people in but not usually during the day and then people still camp out rather than going to the shelters whenever possible I've heard. Too cold for words.

gwendomama said...

whoa.
that is amazing.
and it still doesn't clear up for me whether it should start locking up or not. well, yes - i guess i should...since i do NOT live in alaska.
thank goodness, i tell you. because i watched 'into the wild' last night and felt ill.
and no, he didn't freeze to death. it was far more stupid than that.

Life with the Lambs said...

A teacher of mine once went to give a homeless man money and realized he knew the man from a previous job. You never know what will befall a person, and I try to help whenever I can. Keeping doors unlocked for homeless people might be a stretch, but you know what I mean.

Shalee said...

Oh my lands...

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

So sad and scary. Wow. I can't imagine how troubling that must have been for your friends . . .

DermDoc said...

Great story. Unfortunately we have plenty of homeless people here in San Diego. Fortunately they are never hypothermic.

Magpie said...

Wow - that is a wild story. And yes, damned good that she didn't freeze on their front steps.

Lei said...

Wow, how scary and how sad a situation for that poor woman. It hurts my heart to know how many others there are in her position.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

We once had a drunk lady hiding behind the bushes of our front door. I felt so sad for her but we had to have her leave or let us help her. She wouldn't let us help but just left instead.

I had never thought of homelessness in a place as cold as Alaska. I would think they would have all day shelters there instead of just evening ones.

Lis Garrett said...

Oh my goodness, what a frightening story. I'm not sure I would have been so composed and compassionate, although I sure hope so . . .

chelle said...

What an amazing moment ... door unlocked (heck even in Canada we lock the door, especially since that film maker claimed we did not!), woman in need of a door being unlocked!

I cannot believe the husband slept through all the commotion! hehe so typical!

Anonymous said...

Great story! There were 2 little girls (age 3 and 1 I think) who froze to death in Saskatchewan last week because they were outside at night. People don't realize how cold "COLD" can really be. That styrofoam crunch usually means at least -25C (not sure what that is in Faharenheit...or how to spell Faherenhiet?) How kind of them to help her.
LisaC

April said...

Precisely why David needs to check and recheck that the door is locked every night. Sometimes numerous times.

Scary!

Leslie said...

Wow! What a story! And here I've been whining about my broken furnace - at least we had a fireplace. Gosh, that story is incredible. I cannot imagine how I would have reacted in your friend's position.

I knew one homeless man well in my life. I was a staffing specialist for an employment firm and he was always coming in for temporary work. He had some very serious mental issues. He lived with his parents until they died and then, at the age of 48, was living without a home. He did have his parents car for a while, which he slept in. He had a membership to a gym, to use the showers. The rest of his money went to his medication. And when he couldn't afford that, he usually ended up in jail. It was a horrible situation and I still wonder about him today, and how he's managed to get along.

Maryann said...

That's quite a story. It pulls you in different directions. Scared, curious, more scared, sad, worried, concerned. wow!
But I would def lock the doors from now on.

Carla said...

Wow-what a story! Gives me chills to think about it. I agree, it was a Godsend that their door happened to be open, and she encountered such a kind family. It's sad to think of where the woman might be right now.

Scribbit said...

Yes, I had conflicting emotions over the whole thing but I'm still very careful about locking my doors. You can't be too careful. About 13 or 14 years ago Andrew and I were living downtown and one night a man was stabbed just down the street. He wandered to our door, banging and screaming in the middle of the night. We were afraid to let him in and called the police but before they got there he laid down in front and died. We didn't realize until after the police got there that he'd been stabbed, we thought he was crazy or on drugs or something and we felt pretty bad about not helping him. It was just all so sudden I guess. Anyway, they got the guy who did it--a Native man with a chip on his shoulder--and it turns out he'd asked the guy who died (a white guy) for a light and when he refused the Native guy took it as a sign of the oppression and stabbed the white guy. All over a light. My cousin was staying with us and was in the middle of it all and ended up testifying in the trial.

Anyway, long story but it makes me careful about locking my doors.

Jenna said...

Whoa! Great story! And I like the other side of the coin that you offered. What IF their door had been locked? You know, there used to be a time when a stranger was not a scary thing. That might have been a nice time.

Daisy said...

That would be really scary! It's enough to remind me to lock my doors. Homelessness is universal, and it's been dangerously cold here, too.

Loralee Choate said...

I used to volunteer at a homeless shelter. You wouldn't believe what they go through.

The cold is one of the most horrible things to deal with for the homeless. There are never enough places in the shelter.

By far the saddest are kids that are homeless.

Sheila said...

What a story! Thanks for sharing it.

I am also surprised that there would be a large homeless population in Alaska. Its a lot warmer here in Pacific North West.

Randi said...

Wow, what a crazy story! I can't even imagine being homeless, much less homeless in Alaska. My hope is that maybe she has found some shelter and warmth somewhere.

Cocoa said...

Wowsers! We should probably lock our doors but we don't...

Julienne said...

Talk about timing - I was talking to one of my students today and explaining the necessity of volunteering (he has to do 5 hours for a school project and was NOT happy). I'm sending this post directly over to him to remind him that he is a very, very lucky young man!!

That was one of the most interesting and touching posts I've read in so long - thank you for sharing!

Laura said...

What a story! I can't imagine the shock of finding someone in my house, nor the experience of being homeless, period--but Alaska, in winter?? It sure changes your perspective on things...

Audrey said...

Wow, it really does make you think about where she is sleeping tonight. But amazing that everything turned out okay and that the woman was blessed enough to find an open door to a family that was willing to help her out during such a hard time.

Sher :) said...

Where is she indeed?? Sometimes I'm glad I don't know all the sad things that go on in our world. It's frustrating not be able to fix them.

jubilee said...

You're story gave me the goose-bumps and not because I am cold.
I am convinced that there are no coincidences in life. An unlocked door for a woman in need sounds like divine intervention to me.

Laura said...

GASP! Gasp I did. Oh my gosh. At first all I could think about was the danger of leaving your door unlocked with children in the house and then you brought out the bigger issue, that poor woman. It breaks my heart to think of people suffering and even dying that way. WOW!

Then I read the second story in your comments and gasped again!

Hip Things said...

That's a scary story! I would have freaked if that happened to me..I'm not sure I would have figured out she was suffering from hypothermia..smart of that woman! And no I couldn't imagine being homeless- especially in Alaska!!

luckyzmom said...

What an amazing story! Thanks for sharing.

Careod said...

I came upon this site tonight after I googled 'homeless in Alaska". I am so very frightened of being homeless and having my kids on the street. I am in a panic about this. You would think I don't have a good job. I do. You would think I don't have any security. We have some but not much. We are so middle class but I am in a panic about losing everything. Do the rest of you ever think of this? There by the grace of God go I. My heart goes out to the homeless in town.
Last Friday night I took the kids to Denny's on Benson after a sporting event. In the mens room is a guy, his back pack and a pillow. He was camped next to the toilet. On the bench inside the front door was "Rose" and she was blasted drunk. As soon as she passed out she was fine and didn't bother anyone but there by the Grace of God go I.
Does anyone else ever think about this stuff?

Scribbit said...

Yes, I think about that a little but not too much--it's not pleasant. The older you get the more you realize that life can take some bad turns so easily.