“My family told me I wasn’t welcome anymore.”
“I chose homelessness to avoid a dangerous situation at home.”
“I’m 14 and have nowhere to live except the homeless shelter. I hope no one at school finds out.”
These are just some of the devastating stories that Alaskan youth experiencing homelessness or trafficking carry with them. Often, these situations of homelessness, family rejection, and dangerous settings drive them onto the streets, where it becomes all too easy to begin a devastating cycle of poverty and addiction. Before they know it, and often before their high school years begin, these children are on a trajectory of hopelessness and homelessness that becomes difficult to break on their own.
Luckily, for many youth in Anchorage, they are not alone.
Covenant House Alaska
Covenant House Alaska (CHA) exists to serve suffering children on the streets of Anchorage, AK. Guided by a Christian vision to serve children “with absolute respect and unconditional love,” CHA is the largest provider of services to homeless and runaway youth in the state of Alaska.
“Young people experience homelessness for a variety of reasons—they have often endured repeated trauma and have been failed by the people that were supposed to protect them,” says executive director Alison Kear. “This puts them at risk for exploitation, trafficking, abuse, and unhealthy coping mechanisms.”
But, as she puts it elsewhere, “We’re stopping that adult cycle of poverty.”
CHA opened in 1988 as a shelter for youth experiencing homelessness and trafficking, but it has since emerged into a robust organization providing services to meet the various needs of at-risk Alaskan youth. CHA no longer stops at providing emergency shelter; it provides a system of compassionate care that offers hope and healing to those they have the opportunity to serve. Since their founding, they have served more than 28,000 youth from across the state of Alaska.
Their services include:
- Street outreach and crisis care, which involves meeting at-risk youth where they are at on the streets, beginning to build trust and meeting their essential needs such as food, bus passes, warm clothing, housing, and medical care.
- A 24/7 emergency shelter that provides a safe place for 60 youth to sleep and receive care.
- Transitional Living programs that provide youth with a safe, stable living environment and help them build self-reliance and confidence.
- A nationally recognized Bridge to Success program that transitions young adults ages 18 to 24 from shelter living into apartment living.
- Education and employment services that help youth discover their talents and explore careers through career counseling, internships, resume and cover letter classes, tutoring, professional clothing, and more. 35% of youth arriving at CHA have a high school diploma; 71% have a high school diploma or GED when they leave.
- Pastoral care that listens to youth’s difficult questions like “Is there a God? Why would God let these things happen to me? Does God love me?” These pastoral ministry services are open to all youth, but forced on none.
- A Youth Enrichment Program that helps youth develop wellness skills and habits through creative and recreational activities, cultural programs that connect youth to their heritage, community volunteer opportunities, and more.
“Part of a Movement”
In addition to these ongoing services, CHA is a major community collaborator. It is the lead agency for a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development called the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project. Along with community agencies and city and state divisions, CHA is working on four innovative projects, such as host homes that allow youth to actively participate in choosing their living situation. These projects draw on the insights of those who know homelessness well—youth and young adults from CHA, most of whom have spent time on the streets themselves—to create lasting change in Anchorage so that homelessness is rare, brief, and a one-time occurrence.
Kear shares that this community support has allowed CHA to innovate in critical ways. “Innovation comes when you have the time, space, and mental capacity to look at your organization and think, ‘How can we be different?’ Because of the support from our community, we have been able to ask that question instead of, ‘How do we keep the lights on?’”
CHA also relies heavily on its volunteers. Amelia offers weekly activity nights for CHA youth. Hayley hosts art workshops every Wednesday. Tom and Melissa mentor youth and young adults through CHA’s mentorship program. Each of these volunteers, and many more, expand the impact of CHA’s work far beyond what the organization’s staff could do on its own.
“An agency like Covenant House cannot do this alone,” said Judith Crotty, CHA board president. “We have to look at solutions from a community perspective and collaboration amongst multiple agencies.”
As Kear put it, “Covenant House – we’re part of a movement.”
Joining the Movement
The Murdock Trust has been honored to join the movement in a small way through four capacity-building grants since 2004. These grants have supported youth shelter renovations, the hiring of two new staff members, COVID-19 support, and the construction of a new shelter.
This movement is not just to provide immediate support to those on the streets, though that is important. It is a movement to change the way our communities respond to the most vulnerable among us. For this important work, and to the CHA youth, staff, volunteers, and community partners who are joining hands to create safe options for all children and young adults in Anchorage, we cannot say thank you enough.