Jennadean Bateman helps fills "Blessing Bags" with items to donate to homeless teens at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Homer in September.-photo provided

Jennadean Bateman helps fills "Blessing Bags" with items to donate to homeless teens at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Homer in September.-photo provided

Community has not forgotten problem of teen homelessness

Community members are working to find solutions for the issue of teen homeless in the Homer area ranging from providing resources for clothing and food to searching for a way to legally house minors without a roof over their heads.

Homelessness in Homer looks different than many people picture the situation, said Jane Dunn, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District homeless liaison serving southern peninsula and Ninilchik schools. Very few homeless people are sleeping out on the streets, as one might see in a metropolis.

“There are people who are couch surfing, doubled up with family members, or staying in substandard housing,” Dunn said. If you’re staying in a trailer full of mold or a house with a roof caving in, that’s not suitable housing.”

Dunn helps families experiencing housing difficulties and unaccompanied youth, or youth not living with their parents or guardians. Currently, she has a caseload of about 60 students between the two categories. Districtwide, there are about 200 students, she said.

Dunn meets with families and youth that are referred to her, usually by guidance counselors or other school staff, and helps them sign up for public assistance so they can have access to health care, as well as helps find them school supplies, clothing, toiletries. She also connects them with free breakfast and lunch programs at the schools.

Everyone’s needs differ, so how Dunn assists students and their families vary depending on their situations, she said.

Public assistance can be tricky, as there is a long wait time for people seeking help, Dunn said. Food stamps tend to happen a little faster than health care, she said.

Prepaid cell phones can be a lifeline for youth living on their own, giving them the ability to call someone if they need help. The Rec Room raised money a couple years ago and purchased prepaid phones for Dunn to give out. She just handed out the last one, she said.

“It’s a very rewarding and really interesting job,” Dunn said. “I’ve learned a lot about philanthropy and about how appreciated every little effort is for people who really need it.”

Youth without a stable living situation often face judgment from the community, which Dunn would like to dispel, she said. Many of these teens work jobs in addition to going to school.

“I know there’s a stigma that homeless teens are more likely to be involved with drugs or nefarious characters, but the truth is that some of the teens I work with are the most hardworking people I know,” Dunn said. “They are more responsible than some adults.”

 

Even the most hardworking students who do not have a stable home life face challenges in school, as doing things like completing homework — something routine for many students — becomes more difficult. Though the Homer Public Library is one place students can go to do work, there is not a place in town for students to go if they do not have a home to sleep in each night.

 

“It’s hard to get your homework done if you don’t have a stable home every night. If you’re couch surfing — staying with your friends — you can leave your backpack somewhere, and you don’t have a phone to get it,” Dunn said. “You have lack of sleep because if you’re sleeping on someone’s couch or you don’t know where you’re sleeping, it’s hard to get good sleep.”

 

Additionally, homelessness can look like camping out during the warmer months, which can leave teens at the mercy of nature — dangerous in Alaska if a person does not know basic camping safety.

 

“I had to inform one of the students about bear safety and how to keep their food away so they wouldn’t be in danger of a bear attack when they’re trying to live day to day,” Dunn said.

 

Christin Fankhauser with the Salvation Army is working with a group of individuals within the community to resolve the lack of shelter for teens. Housing unaccompanied minors presents the possibility of sticky legal situations, so the project must answer both questions of where and how to give homeless youth shelter.

 

“We want to make sure that we’re staying within whatever parameters of the law when it comes to adults sheltering other people’s children. Minors who are not emancipated cannot legally make those decisions themselves. Could a family get into trouble for harboring a runaway?” Fankhauser said. “And then of course background checks so there will be no history of abuse or issues there, so we know that home is safe for whoever we recommend. We’re working on figuring out how to do all that legally.”

 

The plan is to create a network of safe homes, rather than a shelter. Most youth have expressed that they would rather be in a home than a shelter, which feels too institutional to them, Fankhauser said. However the group also wants to work toward creating a shelter in Homer, which could cater to adults and families who need shelter and help them get plugged into resources and to become self-sufficient eventually.

 

The core group of community members and organization representatives has been working to lay the groundwork for the program before involving more people.

“Right now there’s a core group trying to keep it going, doing the legal and background work, looking at grants, community needs assessment, laws, successful programs so we can model that ourselves,” Fankhauser said. “Once we get through those hurdles that are difficult then we can start plugging in the interested individuals looking to make a difference.”

More in News

The 2021 elections will be held Oct. 5.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board Q&A

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, elections will be held for Homer City Council,… Continue reading

The 2021 elections will be held Oct. 5.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Q&A

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, elections will be held for Homer City Council,… Continue reading

The 2021 elections will be held Oct. 5.
Homer City Council candidate Q&A

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, elections will be held for Homer City Council,… Continue reading

Traffic moves north along the Sterling Highway shortly after a fatal crash closed the highway for several hours Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. The state is seeking federal funding for a project aimed at improving safety along the Sterling Highway between mileposts 82.5 to 94, or between Sterling and Soldotna. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
State looks to federal funding for Sterling Highway project

The project is aimed at improving highway safety between Sterling and Soldotna.

Ethan Benton (left) and Laura Walters of Kodiak win the vaccine lottery for the Alaska Chamber's week one vaccine lottery giveaway "Give AK a Shot." (Screenshot)
State names winners in 1st vaccine lottery

A Valdez and Kodiak resident took home checks for $49,000 each.

Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion
A podium marks the beginning of a StoryWalk at Soldotna Creek Park on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. The project was discontinued in August due to vandalism.
Vandalism ends Soldotna library program

The StoryWalk was made possible by a $2,500 donation from the Soldotna Library Friends.

Juneau Empire file
The Coast Guard medevaced a 90-year-old suffering stroke-like symptoms near Ketchikan aboard a 45-foot response boat-medium like this one, seen in Juneau, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.
Coast Guard medevacs man from yacht near Ketchikan

The 90-year-old suffered symptoms of a stroke.

James Varsos, also known as “Hobo Jim,” poses for a photo during the August 2016, Funny River Festival in Funny River, Alaska, in August 2016. (Peninsula Clarion file)
‘Hobo Jim’ opens up about recent terminal cancer diagnosis

Varsos was named Alaska’s official “state balladeer” in 1994.

Most Read