During pandemic, supporting homeless youth remains critical

Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 6:29 PM AKDT
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For organizations that support homeless and at-risk youth, shutting down during a pandemic simply was not an option. At least that was the case for My House in Wasilla. The non-profit even expanded services to ensure low-income kids still received the help they needed.

Feelings of fear and uncertainly are nothing new for homeless youth, and something like a pandemic just adds another layer of stress. As a former client herself, Abby Lampley knows the feeling. Now, as the non-profit's administrative assistant, she's one of the people making sure that needed support is available.

"I feel like I saw a lot of loneliness and fear, and I know a lot of kids who have had depressive behaviors in the past," said Lampley. "I could see that coming back a little bit. I saw those pieces that need to feel connected."

So instead of completely closing the doors, My House stayed open, expanding its hours to allow for social distancing. Even keeping the Gathering Grounds drive thru-open, but not for the reason you may expect.

"We served our clients out the drive-thru window because it was a way that we could social distance without having them in the building and it worked really great," said My House Executive Director, Michelle Overstreet. "We were able to hand mail out, and resources, and food. We served over a thousand hot meals out the drive-thru window to kids that were hungry."

The non-profit found ways to expanded access to services and saw an increase in the number of clients going to treatment.

"That was really a positive, said Overstreet. "I think the isolation created a bit of a reality check on what my behavior really is, and what addiction might really look like in my life."

Most of the clients My House serves don't have access to information on current events and important issues where they live, so the organization also worked hard to keep their clients informed about the pandemic.

"So there was a lot of education about what to do if you have symptoms, what are the symptoms, we had a handout of how to properly clean and sanitize things, how to properly wash your hands," said Lampley.

There were even a few success stories in the process. "We have a lot of clients that actually got jobs and went to work during that period of time," said Overstreet. "We had kids coming and going, working on resumes and applying for jobs, and really just that one on one contact with a case manager that allows them to just kind of settle into, 'yes, we're in the middle of a pandemic, but you're still employable, and valuable, and needed in our community."

A community that offered an outpouring of support, even though lockdown. Overstreet says the Mat-Su Health Foundation donated $50-thousand to go towards COVID-19 services provided by My House.

"Also, the Alaska Community Foundation contributed money that helped us expand our housing and put more youth into housing to keep them safe," said Overstreet. "We had a day where we ran out of to-go containers for food that we were handing out the drive-through window, and people brought food. They brought containers."

Now the organization is back to full operations, with added hygiene and sanitation rules. While some of the ways My House serves youth may have changed, its mission has stayed the same.

"Resources are great, but having support behind you, especially as a homeless youth or someone with a background who hasn't had a lot of healthy support, has been such an important piece during this time," said Lampley.

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