WASILLA— The year 2020 was challenging for MyHouse staff, volunteers and their ever growing list of local homeless and at risk youth.
“It’s been crazy,” MyHouse Executive Director Michelle Overstreet said. “Our numbers overall are up 30 percent… which I think I probably fallout from COVID… more people reporting feelings of depression, thoughts of suicide. I would say that our numbers have at least doubled.”
MyHouse case manager and suicide prevention specialist Justin Pendergrasss said that he compiled data and found that about 76 percent of MyHouse clients struggled with thoughts of suicide in 2019. He said that number has gone up by at least 10 percent since the start of 2020. He said 30 percent of their suicide prevention clients are coming straight from an attempt into their program.
“So, coming through the door, they can be pretty hopeless,” Overstreet said.
Overstreet said they’re seeing 35 percent higher reports of sexual trafficking from their clients. She said that she was thankful for their Director of Human Trafficking Recovery Services Staci Yate’s passionate efforts launching a whole new program working to combat these statistics.
Yates is the coordinator of Alaska Stop Human Trafficking Alliance, an up and coming group blanked under MyHouse dedicated to educating the public, raising awareness for human trafficking, and trying to and save as many people as they can.
“The timing of Staci coming onboard with the sex trafficking program is just absolutely perfect,” Overstreet said.
Pendergrass is currently making his way across the Valley holding presentations and other outreach efforts through his group, Valley Awareness for Preventing Suicide. Overstreet said the ongoing efforts from people like Yates and Pendergrass are some of the shining lights helping lead the community through the challenges.
“I adore what he’s doing. Truly, without him here it’s scary; because he takes care of everyone who has those suicidal thoughts and ideations and connects them to services and follows up with what their needs are. It’s so phenomenal to have an individual so passionate about saving lives. What a blessing, not just us but to the whole community,” Overstreet said.
Overstreet credited her caring staff and volunteers who’ve been working extra hours to provide wrap around services to best support their clients throughout the pandemic. She thanked them for rising to the occasion day in and day out.
“That’s powerful,” Overstreet said.
Overstreet said they recently received funding for COVID-19 relief from the Department of Health of Social Services, Alaska Housing, Alaska Community Foundation, and the Mat-Su Health Foundation, allowing them to expand their staff and services to meet the ever rising demand.
She said this followed a very generous endowment from a man they never met. A Big Lake aircraft mechanic named John James Bornman left $230,000 to MyHouse in his will.
“I think that is amazing… I wonder sometimes, ‘who was that guy?’ Did he foresee a need?” Overstreet said. “For a guy we’ve never met to provide the funding when the funds were not coming in and when we didn’t know if there was going to be extra funding is pretty phenomenal.”
Overstreet said they received the check from his estate in October of 2019 following his death. She said it was a complete surprise from a complete stranger that ultimately helped them keep maintain their services through 2020
“The 200,000 dollars allowed to keep our doors open,” Overstreet said.
MyHouse opened a COVID House during the onset of the pandemic, quarantining transient and high risk youth that tested positive for the virus. Overstreet said it was a safe and supportive atmosphere for clients without symptoms to separate themselves from the public, preventing further infection.
“It really was a resting place for people who otherwise didn’t have anywhere to go and would’ve put the community at a risk,” Overstreet said.
According to Overstreet, MyHouse served about 27 clients through the COVID House. She said there’s currently three clients at the facility and they plan to keep offering this service as long as it’s needed.
MyHouse had a total of 684 clients at the end of 2020, according to Overstreet. She said there were 87 new clients in 2020, and there’s an average of100 new clients each year. She noted that there’s been an uptake in clients over the last few months.
“I feel good. Even during COVID that means they weren’t afraid to come,” Overstreet said.
Overstreet said they see an average 120 different youth and young adults a week. She said they’ve managed to stay open the whole time because they have too many kids that are counting on them.
“We stayed open. We extended our hours… We never missed a beat,” Overstreet said.
Pendergrass reflected on the last year and marveled at all they’ve accomplished in spite of the pandemic.
“This year has been really amazing,” Pendergrass said.
Despite all the hardships, Overstreet said that 2020 was more than a challenge. It was a call to action that MyHouse answered and passed with flying colors. She said that she’s encouraged by their ability to navigate through this complicated time, and she’s eager to see how this movement to support the Valley’s most vulnerable will continue to build on itself, celebrating each new partnership, each new client milestone, and each new opportunity to make a difference.
“I think we learned a lot in 2020... It really has been an incredible journey on how communities come together during a crisis and help one another,” Overstreet said.
MyHouse is holding their annual Cupid is Stupid, Love Yourself campaign Feb. 8 through Feb. 12. There will be a number of self care workshops, giveaways, and other activities throughout the week.
For more information, call 907-373-4357 or visit myhousematsu.org.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org