A new task force in Fairbanks will be formed in the coming weeks to begin discussions about gaps in resources and assistance for the community’s homeless youths. The formation of the task force is the result of a recently announced $1.65 million revolving grant to fund additional homeless youth resources across the state.
The grant, announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, was awarded in perpetuity to Alaska through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, meaning the state will receive $1.65 million every two years to address the issue of youth homelessness across the state. The program is still in the planning stages and will likely be distributed in late 2020. Until then, communities will be discussing how the funding should be used.
Marylee Bates, director of Fairbanks’ only youth homeless shelter The Door, is helping with the formation process. The grant funding is not designed to be distributed to existing programs. Rather, the money will help fill in gaps in services.
“What we’ll be doing is coming together as a group, people who have lived experiences in homelessness, people who are running resources and other interested members of the community, and brainstorming what is lacking in our community and how we think it would be best to fill in those gaps,” Bates said.
The grant will be designated for communities outside of Anchorage, Bates explained.
“Anchorage has already received a (Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program) grant several years ago,” she said.
The new funding will be for the hundreds of other communities facing similar problems, including Fairbanks. The Door faces limitations in services it can provide. The program can only hold 12 youths at a time, for example. Another issue is the age limitations. The Door is only able to serve within a certain age range, according to its license.
“We definitely need some specialized services for 18, 19, 20, 21 who are experiencing homelessness and really don’t have the tools they need to be successful and work through things,” Bates said. “We are acutely aware of that problem because they come by at 11 at night and need to warm up, but they need different services and have different needs that we aren’t as an organization able to meet.”
The grant funding will go to programs serving people age 24 and under. The funding will be awarded individually once the community has been able to coordinate plans and demonstrate a specific need, Bates said.
“So that’s where we’re at right now. We’re just in the planning stages right now,” she said. “Each group is tasked with listening to the community and finding out what it is we really need.”
According to 2018 data from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, an average of 337 unsheltered school-age children and 163 unaccompanied young adults ages 18-24 experienced homelessness on any given day in Alaska.
The task force will meet for the first time Friday. Those interested in participating on the task force can call The Door at 907-347-5678 and leave their name and a number for Bates to call.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.