What others say: Youth homeless shelter provides vital service

Along with melting snow, spring this year brought the opening of a long-awaited community resource: a shelter aimed at providing housing for the Interior’s homeless youths. On April 4, Fairbanks Youth Advocates celebrated the official opening of its new facility, known as The Door.

Officials at FYA said The Door arose out of an unfilled need in Fairbanks. Since the Fairbanks Native Association closed a similar facility nearly a decade ago, there had been no shelter options for homeless teenagers. Although many were able to find shelter with friends or family members, harsh Fairbanks winters made the societal issue a safety concern that couldn’t be ignored.

There are a surprising number of homeless teens in Fairbanks, though exact figures are hard to pin down. When FYA was drawing up plans for The Door, a Street Outreach and Advocacy Programs official estimated that about 800 youths in the area have no permanent residence.

Without basic needs like food and shelter addressed, more problems follow. Homeless youths are vastly less likely to graduate or even attend high school, and without a stable source of income many turn to petty crimes like shoplifting to provide the things they need or want. Those crimes in turn make it more difficult to find stable employment or housing, deepening both their cycle of homelessness and the costs society incurs in dealing with them.

The Door’s goal isn’t just to provide shelter. The facility and its volunteers work to help connect the youth they serve with resources to stabilize their housing situation, find jobs, or continue their education. They provide food, hygiene items, opportunities for recreation and positive activities.

While their new facility was under construction, FYA sponsored a temporary overnight shelter for 16 months in the basement of First Presbyterian Church downtown, serving close to 160 young people in need of a place to stay during that time. That shelter operated only during overnight hours, as church members used the building during the day. The Door, by comparison, operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

Like the youths who take shelter there, The Door’s basic needs have been met. Construction finished late last year, and state permits to operate came this spring. But the facility is needs items to provide further help, like clothing, food for the pantry, and various durable goods. You can check the FYA web page at www.fairbanksyouthadvocates.org to see the list of current needs.

Sometimes, when shelters like The Door are under discussion, budget-minded community members will express concern over their costs — even when, as in the case of FYA’s plan, the facility is financed not by local tax dollars but state block grants. Those concerns are legitimate, and an eye must always be kept on budgets to guard against waste. But it’s worthwhile, too, to include in that calculation the costs to the community of the facility’s absence. In the case of The Door, there is great value in changing the trajectories of young people who might otherwise become a burden both to the health of the community and a drain on its financial resources.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

June 28

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