FAIRBANKS – A new youth shelter opened at the First Presbyterian Church this month, providing a warm overnight spot for local homeless kids to stay during the winter.
The shelter, which is being run by the nonprofit organization Fairbanks Youth Advocates, opened Dec. 1 after months of discussions and planning. During its intentionally low-key opening month, the shelter has housed four or five youths during most nights, Director Marylee Bates said.
The shelter provides a warm, supervised place for kids to sleep, as well as basic necessities like winter gear, personal hygiene supplies and snacks. It also provides transportation to local schools as part of a partnership with the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.
Bates said the shelter emerged out of necessity, after summer discussions with about 15 representatives from local social welfare groups underscored the need for safe accommodations for homeless teens. FYA was urged to accelerate its shelter plans to launch this winter.
Jeff Cimmerman, the director of Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption’s Street Outreach Advocacy Program, said the need for such a facility is clear. SOAP provides hot meals and an indoor area for as many as 40 kids from 2-6 p.m. each day, but there were few good overnight options until the FYA facility opened, he said.
“It’s cold out there,” Cimmerman said. “It’s nice to know they have a warm place to sleep.”
Some teens previously have stayed in the Fairbanks Rescue Mission, but there’s limited space for them among the adults who are the primary residents. Others hop from couch to couch, spend the nights in 24-hour stores or simply walk through the nights, Bates said.
The FYA shelter houses youths ages 13-17 from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day. Youths outside that age range are considered on a case-by-case basis, Bates said. No alcohol, drugs or weapons are allowed, but teens are allowed to enter with no questions asked.
The shelter isn’t licensed by the state, but Bates said that’s an eventual goal. Licensing would allow the shelter to provide case management for teens and offer hot meals to kids who stay there. Although FYA is a faith-based organization, the shelter isn’t there to proselytize to kids, she said.
In January, FYA plans to boost outreach efforts, including putting signs in buses and other areas where homeless youths gather.
Bates said the shelter has three staff members funded by the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. but that most of the work is done by volunteers.
“We’re just feeling really grateful to the community,” she said.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.