Hard Truths: Home and Hearth
Near the east end of 10th Street there’s a tidy campus of three small houses and a garden that make up the current teen shelter. It’s a considerable improvement over the temporary shelter Fairbanks Youth Advocates ran out of the 1st Presbyterian Church for sixteen months. While cots set up each night and broken down each morning provide a more stable refuge than sleeping outside or couch surfing, The Door feels, I imagine, much more comfortable.
“We never know what a day is going to look like,” said Kelli Boyle, the shelter supervisor, as she showed me around The Door an early afternoon in late February. “People have an idea of homeless kids and why they’re homeless, but the truth is there is no profile, no one situation or environment that leads kids here.”
Open since April 2014, The Door provides shelter for up to a dozen teens ages 12-18 each night as well as being a safe place to drop in for a meal or a shower if that is all they want or need at the time. Clean and bright, The Door occupies the westernmost building of the campus (the other two are used for administrative work and counseling) with a home kitchen where staff and residents make three meals a day, tables to do homework, couches to lounge, read or watch a movie and a few instruments tucked in the corners.
“Being a teenager is really hard,” Boyle said. “[The Door is] homey without being too much like home; [we] try to keep it welcoming, open and accessible.”
As the only shelter of its kind in Fairbanks, youth find their way to The Door through a variety of means: often referral by a school counselor, but also searching online or word of mouth.
We are a safe and available place,” Boyle said. “We’ve had university students here too, [they’re] camping during the summer but when it’s getting cold out they need a place to stay.”
Fairbanks Youth Advocates works closely with the Street Outreach & Advocacy Program, a drop in space for youths ages 10-21, as well as the Fairbanks North Star School District to do whatever they can to keep the teens lives normal and to plug them into a sense of community.
What of your own community? Do you know a group that needs a volunteer activity? The Door could use the unique perspective of university students. Generous community members regularly donate clothing for the shelter’s residents and visitors, but it all needs to be sorted with one of the first criteria being: would a teenager actually want to wear it?
The Door: www.FairbanksYouthAdvocates.org
Street Outreach & Advocacy Program: www.fcaalaska.org/street-outreach