Street Outreach and Advocacy Program
The coordinators of the Street Outreach and Advocacy Program (S.O.A.P.) on 7th Avenue work quietly, day in and day out, to bring the most basic services and support to at-risk youth and homeless teens.
Now, they’re bringing their efforts to light- literally- and taking the message of need to the streets with an Annual Candlelight Vigil (poster here). Next Wednesday, a band of allies carrying steady flames will line Cushman Street bridge in honor of young Fairbanksans who don’t feel safe with family, but haven’t yet found a refuge of their own.
November is National Youth Homelessness Month, and vigils will be held all over the country in solemn support of children and teens who bed down under a bridge or in an alleyway instead of at home.
To participate in the vigil, gather at one of three starting points (parking available) at 4:30pm on Wednesday, November 9th- choose between Chartreuse, Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, or Sadler’s. Processions from each location will meet on Cushman Street bridge, standing in solidarity for half an hour before moving on to Immaculate Conception Church for snacks, drinks, and a debrief led by local agencies.
“We estimate around 800 homeless youth in Fairbanks,” Heather Munro, VISTA Volunteer with S.O.A.P. says, citing a 2010 report of 456 cases of homeless youth in Fairbanks school systems.
S.O.A.P. provides basic services and products to teenage clients, averaging 35-50 individuals per month. Clients can eat meals, find warm clothing, pick up free bus tokens, and use the internet to find a job or look into housing options. They can also take the GED at no personal cost. Coordinators are on hand to help, provide an upbeat atmosphere, and build camaraderie with activities and group projects. The center, operated by Fairbanks Counseling and Adoption, is open 2pm-6pm on weekdays.
Unfortunately, there are large blocks of time when S.O.A.P. is closed and clients are left to their own devices to find a place to sleep or a hearty meal.
The vigil comes amidst a new wave of hope on the homeless front of Fairbanks. Local agencies are focused on the immediate opening of a 24-hour emergency shelter for homeless youth. They have purchased a building on 10th Avenue and chosen a name- the Door, inspired by two poems about the opportunity and changes that life can present.
The Door will be the only shelter of its kind in Fairbanks, filling a gap created with the closing of a similar program by the Fairbanks Native Association nearly eight years ago. Currently spearheaded by a nonprofit organization called Fairbanks Youth Advocates (FYA), the shelter is slated to be open in summer/fall 2012, after a frantic period of renovations and fundraising. A donation wish list is posted alongside giving opportunities on the FYA website, and volunteers- particularly those handy with a hammer- are always welcome.
Marylee Bates, Program Director for FYA, says the pace of the project is on par with the desperate demand for a youth shelter in this community.
“It’s been a topic of conversation for years,” Marylee says. “This need kept rising to the surface.”
Modeled off of The Covenant House in Anchorage, the shelter will provide emergency housing (up to 21 days) to teens ages 12-17 as well as healthcare, food, clothing, counseling and help with school or finding work. In 2010, 130 homeless and runaway youth from Fairbanks made it to The Covenant House in Anchorage, where Fairbanksans make up about 10% of the clientele in an average year.
“That’s too far to go in winter,” Marylee points out, though long trips of this sort aren’t safe at any time of year for young runaways.
The candlelight vigil is a show of solidarity with youth who may eventually find their way to the Door, but are left to rely on S.O.A.P., community support, and other agencies in the meantime.
The vigil is supported by Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, Joel’s Place, Fairbanks Counseling & Adoption, Downtown Association of Fairbanks, Fairbanks First, Fairbanks Youth Advocates, AmeriCorps VISTA, United Way, and Safe Place.
Wednesday, November 9th, 4:30pm-6:30pm