Did you know there’s a committed group of agencies in Anchorage that are examining the way they serve youth experiencing homelessness?

In late July, in the middle of a hot and humid summer, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) brought the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project sites to Washington, D.C., to learn from each other’s proposals, early successes, and failures.

This Demonstration Program is a new approach by HUD that requires participating communities to collaborate with new partners (including a youth advisory board), develop a coordinated plan that seeks to end the experience of youth homelessness, and most importantly, include strategies that haven’t been employed before.

Of the nearly 130 applications, Anchorage was 1 of only 10 communities selected because of our robust approach to working in coalition with one another, and our status as a remote community.

Despite being tired from 12 hours of flying, jet lag, and late night phone calls with community partners back in Anchorage, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face each day. I felt honored to be part of this amazing think tank that is centering the voices of young LGBTQ people who are experiencing homelessness as part of groundbreaking, innovative approaches to turning the tide.

As a team we learned:

  • How other cities are deploying volunteer host homes to serve queer and trans youth and how that approach might be useful in a remote city like Anchorage.
  • How trust in young people should be at the core of every mission of youth service providers. In far too many cases, systems and agencies intending to help young people have harmed more than they have than helped. Reconciling and repairing broken relationships is a critical next step in transforming these same systems.
  • That our congressional delegation is committed in their advocacy for funding similarly innovative projects.

While the resources we have from HUD are limited, we have a commitment and the perseverance to keep the voices of the most marginalized and invisible at the heart of any new project. In the coming months, I’m looking forward to seeing the draft plan bring focus to the new solutions that are best for our community.

With everything that is happening in our community and in our world, there’s no shortage of challenging, heartbreaking work to remedy the pervasive problems plaguing our systems. And yet, knowing that there are passionate and dedicated people coming together to challenge the status quo, it’s still hard to wipe the smile away.

 

Josh Hemsath is Pride Foundation’s Regional Philanthropy Officer in Alaska. Email Josh.

 

Josh is proud to serve on the Anchorage Demonstration Site Steering Committee alongside youth leadership, Covenant House Alaska, the Municipality’s Housing and Homelessness Coordinator, the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice, UAA’s Child Welfare Academy, and over 20 additional organizations.

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