KYUK AM

New Program Plans To Fight Teen Homelessness In Bethel

Jul 21, 2017

A new program in Bethel is planning to fight homelessness among teenagers and young adults in the community.

Known as “A Place To Call Home,” the effort will provide transitional housing for young people between the ages of 18 and 24. The housing, while not free, would be heavily subsidized, and the units would have clear rules about drugs and alcohol use.

The non-profit project is the brainchild of Lisa Wimmer. She says that she’s seen too many young people fall through the cracks. “We see young people who cannot afford a place of their own and have no safe place to sleep,” she said in a recent press release. She wasn’t available for comment in time for broadcast, but Eileen Arnold, who supports the project, was.

"I think it’s hard not to be passionate about youth homelessness," said Arnold. "There’s a lot of people who you’re talking to on the side of the road and they say, 'oh that happened to me.'"

Arnold directs the Tundra Women’s Coalition. She’s also a member of Bethel’s Housing Coalition, a group that is supporting the “A Place To Call Home” effort.  Arnold says that teenagers who run away from violent or abusive homes often end up crashing with friends or acquaintances, a practice that can be unstable and unsafe.

"I think couch hopping is what we’re seeing," said Arnold. "And maybe some dubious couch hopping. 'Yes, you can stay here for the night, but… what can you offer?'"

Homeless young people struggle to stay awake in school and have trouble completing their classes. Bethel’s high rents make it hard for them to find housing of their own, even if they already have work. Neither Bethel’s homeless shelter nor its Women’s Coalition provide shelter for underage teenagers.

In addition to offering housing, “A Place To Call Home” hopes to address these issues by providing teenagers and young adults with other support programs, including a drop-in center for teens ages 14-18.

“A Place To Call Home” doesn’t have any housing yet - it was only created within the last few months. Its founder, Lisa Wimmer, is currently fundraising, and she recently received a $5,000 donation from a local philanthropic fund. “A Place To Call Home” will use that money to build its first transitional housing unit, which would give five to seven young people a safe place to stay.