Fairbanks has a problem. In any given year there are between four and six hundred runaway and homeless youth in Fairbanks. They are left with few resources – Fairbanks has no youth shelter, and so they sleep in cars and tents and abandoned buildings. They hang out in 24-hour stores and restaurants, the library. They couch-surf. Without other options, they trade sexual favors for food and a place to sleep.
Stereotypical notions of runaway and homeless youth do them a tremendous disservice. To assume that runaway youth are defiant kids who won’t obey their parents is wrong.
The truth is that youth leave home for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they leave because of conflicts with their parents over their lifestyle, friends, choices. Some have been rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation. Many come from dysfunctional and chaotic families, and leave homes where they suffered physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, or from families where their parents were alcoholics or addicts or suffering from severe mental illness.
And you can’t usually tell a runaway teen apart from his/her peers. They dress, act, hang out, and some even go to school – just like their peers. However, these teens may not know where they’ll sleep at night, or where their next meal will come from. Their life is framed by instability.
And so Fairbanks Youth Advocates, partnering with many local organizations, will open a shelter for these teens. Providing them with a safe place to sleep, warm food, and help to reconnect with their families or find a safe, stable place to live will give them one more option – and one more opportunity to succeed. Learning the what and why to what we do is important.
Some reading for our readers.