Early this year, CIRI descendant M. Treasa Keith of Nampa, Idaho, knew something was wrong with her brother Robert Victor Standifer-Bernhardt, a homeless alcoholic who moved around Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. She had spoken to him at Christmastime, but as the weeks went by with no word, she became concerned.
Keith grew up in Anchorage and Sitka with an extended family that included a number of stepsiblings, but she was always closest to her only full-blooded brother Robert, who was three years younger. Keith, a mother who stays home to care for her three daughters, is the daughter of CIRI shareholder John Standifer of Tyonek and Jennie Beck (McCammon) of Caldwell, Idaho, who was born in Ketchikan. The 36-year-old Keith is married to Dale Keith, and she and her husband and daughters moved from Alaska to Idaho about two years ago.
Keith said no word from her brother was a bad sign, and that as time went on, she knew in her heart something was wrong. “Our hearts were connected. We were always close.”
Frantic to understand what might have happened, Keith contacted the Seattle police, homeless shelters and other family members. “Dad, I just know something is wrong,” she told her father.
“I found a shelter where he had been,” she said, and that led to another shelter where a number of Native American homeless people gathered. Although the shelters knew of her brother, they had heard nothing recently and had not seen him.
Finally, on June 11, Keith saw an article about a body being found in Nampa, and she contacted the coroner’s office there to ask whether the man might be her brother. He was not, but Keith realized she should try contacting the Seattle coroner’s office directly, rather than asking the police about a missing person.
When she did, she learned that her brother had died Jan. 1. His remains had been cremated, against the teachings of the Russian Orthodox faith, and were being stored in a Seattle warehouse.
Keith was upset because she believed no one had made any effort to contact the family or even any shelters in the area despite the fact that her brother had an ID on him at the time of his death and one shelter, the Chief Seattle Club, was listed as an emergency contact. A younger sister was the emergency contact for Robert at that shelter.
Keith said the day after she found out about his death she, her mother and sister drove to Seattle where they met with more family. As a group, they obtained his ashes. Keith and her brother are of both Athabascan and Haida descent, and their Haida relatives in Sitka helped them organize a service July 24.
Although she had been upset because of the difficulty of finding her brother, much of her anger left her when she and her family released his ashes over the waters near Sitka.
Now she simply is resolved to do whatever she can to make sure that others related to homeless people have a better experience than she and her family did.
Cook Inlet Tribal Council works to improve homelessness situation in CIRI region
A rash of deaths of homeless people in Anchorage this last year has focused new attention on homelessness, including the creation of a new municipal task force and homeless coordinator. Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC), a CIRI-affiliated nonprofit agency based in Anchorage, is taking a leading role in these efforts, including participating on the task force and holding a forum on homelessness in September.
CITC is actively exploring solutions to the problem of homeless alcoholics, both through their own array of programs and through work with other service providers and the municipality to coordinate their efforts more effectively wherever possible.
One area in which CITC is currently providing leadership is in effective youth intervention strategies, by multiple agencies, to help prevent patterns of alcohol dependence before they result in life-long debility. This is a critically important long-term approach, and must of course be coupled with short-term strategies that can address the needs of those now in crisis.
CIRI-affiliated nonprofit agencies Cook Inlet Housing Authority and the Alaska Native Justice Center also participate in the municipal task force on homelessness.
For more information on CITC’s programs and services, go online to www.citci.com or call (907) 793-3600 or toll-free at (877) 985-5900. To learn more about the Municipality of Anchorage’s homelessness efforts, go to www.muni.org.
Anchorage police: situation unlikely to occur in Anchorage
Every possible effort will be made to identify a homeless person who died in Anchorage, and that effort would include notifying the family of the deceased in person prior to public release, according to Lt. Dave Parker, spokesman for the Anchorage Police Department.
“We attempt to make contact with at least one family member before we release the name to the media,” Parker said. He noted that APD always tries to make the notification in person wherever possible. If the deceased lived in the Bush, APD usually attempts to find a trooper or local minister to contact the family. He said the only exception would be if the deceased person was a criminal suspect.
If a family member called APD concerning a missing person, Parker said there is a statewide database that would be checked to determine whether the relative had died.
Asked what advice Parker might offer to relatives of the homeless, he suggested that families try to maintain a protocol to have a system in place for checking on someone regularly or having the homeless person check in with a relative or at a shelter on a regular basis.