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Tundra Youth Home becomes first youth-specific housing program in the Y-K Delta

Members of the Bethel community came together to celebrate the opening of the Tundra Youth Home on May 15, 2023 in Bethel, Alaska.
Gabby Salgado
/
KYUK
Members of the Bethel community came together to celebrate the opening of the Tundra Youth Home on May 15, 2023 in Bethel, Alaska.

The Tundra Youth Home is touted as the first and only transitional housing program of its kind on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. It’s a seven-room, single occupancy rental for young adults ages 17 to 25.

The home is the brainchild of the Bethel Housing and Homelessness Coalition, whose members spoke at the newly renovated property’s unveiling earlier this month.

“The young people I work with, gosh. I’m not gonna cry, but each and every one of them is so resilient, and so intelligent, and so smart, and has such big goals and dreams,” said “Choosing Our Roots,” Co-Director of Programming Taylor Feightner. The Anchorage-based non-profit’s mission is addressing homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth in Alaska.

Feightner will be living alongside and working closely with the first residents of the Tundra Youth Home.

“We moved six of them in here today and were able to give them everything that they need so that tonight, when y’all clear out, we get to sit down one-on-one and start making individualized service plans,” Feightner said.

Feightner will work with the residents on things like applying for jobs, getting driver’s licenses, and setting up bank accounts.

“The arc of service is we're hoping for a maximum of 18 months. However, it is available until someone turns 25,” Feightner said. “So our ideal is 18 months, so that folks have enough time to sort of address their first steps, and then begin to save money, gain employment history, build that credit readiness to be able to then secure their own rentals.”

Bethel Community Services Foundation director Michelle DeWitt said that the quick turnaround on the project would not have been possible without the hard work of Mountain Top Repair. DeWitt found the location just six months before the property was ready to be occupied.

“Housing in our community is a huge struggle. And affordable housing is an even larger struggle,” DeWitt said. “We're probably more than 20 years out from affordable housing development in our community. So this is a big deal to add on seven units of housing.”

Feightner, who uses they/them pronouns, is also no stranger to the challenges that come with finding affordable housing.

“When I'm working with adults, it's really, really, really hard to find units. When I'm working with young people, it's all but impossible,” Feightner said.

Feightner explained the ways that young people lacking support systems are especially vulnerable in rural Alaska.

"So if a young person under the age of 18 is houseless, that usually triggers an OCS investigation. And then since there's not a lot of foster homes available on the Delta, just the cycle goes on and on of people removed from Bethel to get the services they need,” Feightner said. “What our coalition is really hoping to do is build up the services here so that if people want to live and thrive where they're from, where they have their family, where they have their community support, that they have that option. Because really that option isn't very solid right now.”

Covenant House Alaska Senior Program Officer Josh Louwerse echoed these concerns.

“We’re based in Anchorage. Sixty percent of the young people we serve are Alaska Native, and over half of those young people come from this region,” Louwerse said. “We have been thinking for a long time, how can we help young people stay here and get services they need here so they don’t end up needing to come to Anchorage unless they’re coming for opportunity?”

After the speakers had finished, Feightner led the 20 or so attendees around the building’s circular layout. The space is centered around a well-equipped community kitchen. One of the young, new residents made a brief appearance amid the commotion and then disappeared back into her room.

Feightner said that Tundra Youth Home is only the first step.

“The explicit intention as we sort of gain traction and have more diverse funding sources is to expand through more villages on the Y-K Delta,” Feightner said.

Eventually, the attendees of the open house began filtering out, leaving the new residents to finally have the pizza party they had been waiting for, marking the start of a new chapter in their lives.

Evan Erickson is a reporter at KYUK who has previously worked as a copy editor, audio engineer and freelance journalist.
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