WASILLA — Alaska will triple the amount of Federal funding going toward youth homelessness with a $1.65 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced on Thursday at MyHouse in Wasilla. The Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project Funding was awarded to 23 communities nationwide to support homelessness remediation actions such as permanent and supportive housing.

“I’m really excited to get with the community members from across the state of Alaska and really identify the core issues that teach region is having because it’s not going to be the same in every region and really get the chance to work with them and discuss potential solutions for the long term,” Dajonee Hale said.

Hale works at MyHouse in Wasilla and is part of the Youth Action Board already assembled. The $1.65 million grant will be spread out over two years with a $250,000 match from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, totaling $1,075,000 in funding for homelessness per year. Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness Executive Director Brian Wilson said that the project will take place in three phases and tentatively begin running new programs for homeless youth in October of 2020. Wilson said that the coordinated community planning process is to get a plan approved by HUD with a vision statement that looks at the data of where homeless youth exist, what services are already provided and where the gaps are.

Phase one will take until the end of April 2020 and phase two will be to release proposals to communities. A Youth Action Board made up of half adults and half youths from various regions of the state will meet to determine where resources are allocated.

“That plan isn’t just about this youth homelessness demonstration program money, it’s about ending youth homelessness,” Wilson said.

Once phase two is complete, phase three will be to set up contracts between HUD and the agencies statewide providing services to homeless youth by October of 2020. Each region of the state with an existing Youth Action Board will send one youth and one adult delegate, with one at large delegate to be added. Wilson had just taken part in two days worth of conversations with youth at Wasilla City Hall on what services were needed for homeless youth and said that the youth members will drive the discussions and have a major say in where resources are allocated.

“About a million dollars every year going into youth program is a huge deal for us right now,” Wilson said.

Commissioner of the DOLWD Tamika Ledbetter said that 3,784 public school students in Alaska identified as homeless, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homlessness. Ledbetter said that of those 3,784 students, 337 had no shelter whatsoever. Anchorage was awarded round one of the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program funding in 2017. According to HUD, $75 million was awarded nationwide in round three of funding in 2019. The two-year grant funding is in perpetuity.

“We were excited to support this new initiative because it’s in perpetuity. It’s not something that you get a grant for a year or two and it disappears and it’s been one of the things we’ve been talking about in state government with regard to as many programs as possible is how do we make things sustainable,” Dunleavy said. “That’s what our focus is on is sustainability for a better Alaska over the long haul.”

Assistant Commissioner of Education Niki Tshibaka passionately told his father’s story of escaping war and poverty as a refugee. Tshibaka directed his remarks to the youth of Alaska.

“No one who calls Alaska home should be homeless,” Tshibaka said. “To any of you who are in crisis, to any of you who are on the streets, to any of you who are homeless, we want you to know that your state believes in you. We believe in the greatness that is in each and every one of you and we are committed to helping you discover develop and deploy that greatness to achieve your dream.”

MyHouse Executive Director Michelle Overstreet detailed the successes of MyHouse over a decade. Overstreet said that 98 percent of MyHouse clients that complete job training in the building are not homeless within three years. Overstreet noted that Alaska has the highest rates of addiction, sexual assault, domestic violence, suicide and depression in the nation. Overstreet hopes that MyHouse can achieve their goals of breaking the cycles of poverty, domestic violence, addiction and youth homelessness with education, job training and safe housing.

“Our administration is giving green lights to all of our commissioners to go out and find programs that can be sustainable that can make positive impacts on the lives of Alaskans,” Dunelavy said.

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