Candlelight vigil honors people who died on the streets of Anchorage

Community members listen to the St. Anthony Samoan Choir sing during a candlelight vigil. Hillman/KSKA
Community members listen to the St. Anthony Samoan Choir sing during a candlelight vigil. Hillman/KSKA

Sunday night about 70 community members gathered on the Park Strip in Anchorage to honor the seven people who died while living outside on the streets this summer. The candle light vigil was held on the same spot where people gathered 32 years ago to demand an emergency shelter for people without housing.

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“Hold out your candle for all to see it,” sand the St. Anthony Samoan Choir. “Take your candle and go light your world.”

Tina Mafuao, with the St. Anthony Choir, said they chose to sing at the ceremony to teach their youth about helping others and to send a message to people in Anchorage.

“One candle each time would make a difference anywhere, in any dark place,” she said in reference to the song. “So I hope the city of Anchorage will rise up to the call of our brothers and our sisters who are less fortunate.”

Community activist Samuel John told the crowd part of the solution is changing how people who are experiencing homelessness view themselves.

“What I feel that everyone of us should do is not just give them our change, not just give them our leftovers. What we really should do is sit down and think about how we are going to give them pride in themselves.”

Governor Bill Walker addressed the community during a candlelight vigil for people who died while living outside over the summer. Hillman/KSKA
Governor Bill Walker addressed the community during a candlelight vigil for people who died while living outside over the summer. Hillman/KSKA

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says that means acknowledging people without homes as people.

“And when you stop and you talk and you get to know them as individuals and you hear their stories – of a veteran who served his country, of a victim who was subject to the most horrific kind of abuse, as someone who’s fleeing, as someone who’s dealing with mental illness. Calling those people just ‘homeless’ does an injustice,” he said.

After the ceremony, community member Christina Mensoff approached the mayor and the governor, who also spoke, with her concerns and asked for solutions. She says she’s as she bikes through town she sits and speaks with many people who live in the camps.

She told the officials that part of the solution is “setting up a place where they can be safe, so they don’t have all of these homeless camps everywhere, and giving them the mental health they need in that area.”

Berkowitz says the municipality is working on solutions, like helping open the housing project Safe Harbor at Merrill Field and providing scattered site housing around the city.