Tom Brennan

Tom Brennan

There seem to be a lot more homeless people around than there used to be. I suspect that is just an impression as the notion of having nowhere to go is certainly nothing new.

But in years past having so many people fit that description that they literally filled Sullivan Arena was not the reality. Things were different in those days. For one thing riding the rails — or hitching a non-paying ride on a freight train — was much more common. And the homeless were not housed in places like Sullivan Arena, even temporarily.

I suspect the major difference is that those who qualify as homeless are in much more organized situations these days. For one thing there seem to be more people actively working to feed, clothe and house the unfortunates than there were in bygone times. And that could be a function of greater awareness of the problem than there was in the past.

Nobody knows for sure where some of the terminology comes from. For instance, take the term “hobo” which may have come from words ho — bo, which is believed to be a greeting used by those who rode the rails together. (Think of it as a variation on “Hey Bo.”)

The problems of the homeless are difficult but there seem to be far more organized efforts to feed and care for such folk than there used to be. That is almost certainly a result of the growing awareness of the problem than there once was. And the low awareness was likely the result of the public’s tendency to ignore the homeless because they were always so difficult to deal with.

By some estimates there are approximately 1,100 homeless people in Anchorage. And that is out of a citywide population of 293,531, which was the official count in 2019. That population number should also be taken with at least a grain of salt since getting the public to stand still long enough to be counted is a near impossible task.

Certainly the homeless population can’t be counted with much certainty, though there are people who say they can make such calculations. Enough of our citizenry does gather at times and places that such ridiculously close counts do get taken seriously. And those who yearn for accurate population numbers are able to make their case for them.


And since those without homes do tend to gather in places like Sullivan Arena, where beds and dishes of food can be counted with some accuracy, fairly accurate numbers are at least credible.

Those of us who work for a living — and pay taxes on what we earn —have no problem believing that accurate counts can be made of the homeless. Or any other category of human being for that matter.

For sure many of the counters make a credible case for their numbers. At least credible enough to satisfy those who are reimbursed for their outlays on behalf of those who don’t have a place to retire to when the day (or night) is done.

Trying to argue the accuracy of such numbers is an impossible task. Thank goodness it doesn’t fall to me to make such a case. Those who do certainly are owed a debt of gratitude from the rest of us.

And those of us who have homes can thank our lucky stars that we do. Worldwide there are millions of people who are not so fortunate. They pay a painful price that should more rightly be levied on the rest of us.

Tom Brennan is an Anchorage columnist and author of six books. He was a reporter/columnist for The Anchorage Times and an editor and columnist at The Voice of The Times.

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