Two weeks ago, photographer Ash Adams and I spent a few days at Bean’s Cafe and Brother Francis for
a story for The Guardian about homelessness in Alaska.
Here’s how the story starts:
As soon as she glimpsed at the body on the icy street, Marie Nickolai knew it was Jackie Amaktoolik. He’d been drinking outside. People said he had collapsed.
She wept as friends coaxed her from the scene. “That’s my brother,” she said.
When homeless people die in Alaska, it is often like this: outside, facilitated by a lethal combination of alcohol and cold.
Nickolai’s stepbrother, known on the streets as Isaac, died on 13 December. The temperature was 6F (-14C).
Nickolai, 42, and her stepbrother grew up among eight siblings in the remote Yupik village of New Stuyahok along the Nushagak river in western Alaska. She said it was a childhood of picking berries, hunting moose, fishing and attending the Russian Orthodox church.
However, for years in their adulthood, Nickolai and Amaktoolik lived on the streets of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Both lived with chronic alcoholism.
Alaska has some of the highest per capita rates of homelessness and alcoholism in America. From October to April, when temperatures can fall below freezing in this city of 300,000, bodies turn up outside with grim predictability; they are found in cars, hunched for warmth near transformer boxes, or in makeshift camps in the city’s many wooded parks.
Read the rest
Here are some of Ash’s gorgeous and heartbreaking unpublished images from our reporting:
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – December 14, 2016: Carl, 28, holds a sign on a corner in Anchorage on the morning December 14, 2016, when the temperature remained in single digits. Carl has been homeless for most of his life. According to him, his 20th anniversary of being homeless is coming up next month, shortly after his birthday. He says physically, the hardest part about being homeless in Anchorage is the frostbite; he typically suffers 5 bouts of frostbite each winter, and is presently suffering his second bout this season./ASH ADAMS
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA- December 12, 2016: Shara Summers, 32, sits on her bed in the women’s dormitory in Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage. Summers says she has been homeless for most of her life./ ASH ADAMS
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – December 13, 2016: JD Hoskins, 58, makes his bed for the night at Bean’s Cafe, a soup kitchen that serves also as a men’s overflow homeless shelter in Anchorage. JD has been volunteering at the cafe to make sure that he has a bed for the night, and hopes to work towards self-sufficiency. /ASH ADAMS
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – December 12, 2016: Michael Charles, 39, and Gabriella Tinker, 23, stand together outside of Brother Francis Shelter. Tinker has been homeless since she was a teenager. Charles came up to Alaska from California recently to work in commercial fishing, and stayed after the season ended. Charles says he is now looking for work. The couple say they were married a few months ago but have never had a photograph made of them together./ASH ADAMS
Marie Nickolai sobs while her husband, Steven Moses tells Nickolai’s other brother that their half-brother died earlier that day. ” I just couldn’t call him,” she says./ASH ADAMS
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – December 12, 2016: People wait in the nightly line to get into Brother Francis Shelter, the largest homeless shelter in Anchorage, which accepts over 200 people every night. Beds are limited, however, and on some nights dozens of people are turned away. Some will be able to get into one of the overflow shelters, while many others will have to find shelter on the street./ASH ADAMS
Steve Moses and Marie Nickolai sit on a mattress in Bean’s Cafe, a soup kitchen which also serves as one of the men’s overflow shelters in Anchorage when the shelter across the parking lot, Brother Francis Shelter, is full. Marie’s half-brother, Jackie Amaktoolik, who was also homeless, died earlier that day in the parking lot. Due to the special circumstances, Bean’s Cafe allowed Marie to stay the night on a mattress separated from the men’s. Before lights out, however, Steven and Marie are kicked out of the shelter for drinking./ASH ADAMS
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA- December 13, 2016: “Rabt” in Bean’s Cafe in Anchorage, says his name came from “up there.” Rabt has been homeless for many years. When he isn’t staying in the cafe, he says he lives in a camp down the street./ASH ADAMS
“Rabt” has been collecting jewelry from trash since he was 7 yeras old, he says. He wears many different pieces around his neck and carries a variety of jewels with him in his pockets and wallet./ASHA DAMS
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – December 13, 2016: A man walks towards Bean’s Cafe and Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage, Alaska. The city has experienced temperatures in single digits for the past week./ASH ADAMS
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – December 13, 2016: Art Helms, 56, stands outside of Bean’s Cafe, the soup kitchen across from Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage, Alaska. Helms has been homeless for about a year and four months, and says this is the first time in his life he’s been homeless. Helms, who says he used to work in the oil field and other laborer jobs, says he is trying to get disability status after an injury that happened years ago has made it difficult to work. For now, he volunteers at Bean’s Cafe to make sure that he has a bed every night./ASH ADAMS