Homeless youth in Juneau don’t have a lot of options when it comes to housing, especially if they’re on their own. The lucky ones stay with family or friends. Many of them couch surf or go camping when the weather’s nice.
But there’s another option many probably aren’t aware of: Juneau Youth Services’ transitional living program.
Alyssa White says she hit rock bottom before moving into a JYS transitional living apartment. The 21-year-old had been living in the dorms at the University of Alaska Southeast.
“I was a partier − a pretty bad partier − and it got out of hand,” says White.
She says JYS gave her a place to live, set her up with substance abuse counseling and generally helped turn her life around.
If she hadn’t gotten into the transitional living program, White says she probably would have ended up on the streets, selling stuff to feed her drug habit. Today she works two jobs and lives with her mom. She says they have a good relationship after a rough patch in her teens.
“I owe a lot to those people,” White says. “Like they really changed my whole perspective, and helped me like maintain my jobs and helped me realize I’m a worthwhile person.”
The Black Bear Apartments are nestled into a stand of trees in the Mendenhall Valley. Transitional living supervisor Henry Wyatt says it’s one of two complexes where clients live during the program.
Compared to transitional living facilities in other parts of the country, Wyatt says these apartments feel less institutional. They range from efficiencies to a 4 bedroom unit. He says the girls’ apartments tend to be decorated like home, while the boys’ are more like college dorms.
“We had one client awhile back, he was a gamer, super into video games,” he says. “He covered his wall in video game posters and he took all the discs out of their boxes and had them all hanging on the wall.”
JYS has nine apartments, and can serve up to 18 clients, ages 16-21.
“Some of them are coming from homes where there’s a lot of drug abuse, maybe physical, emotional abuse,” says Wyatt. “Some kids are just living on the street. They’ve literally been kicked out of their house and are couch surfing or sleeping in the woods.”
Besides housing, the transitional living program offers life skills classes, which Wyatt admits doesn’t sound very exciting.
“It sounds like something a 50-year-old said: ‘These kids need life skills,’” he says.
But he says it’s better than the alternative of figuring it out on your own.
“A lot of people learn how to manage their credit by totally destroying their credit in their early 20s, and then go, ‘Oh yeah, OK, that’s what I shouldn’t do!’” Wyatt says with a laugh. “A lot of people learn how to budget by not budgeting well for 10 years, and then going, ‘Oh OK, well I should probably budget my money. That makes more sense.’”
JYS does have ground rules. For example, clients are expected to have a job or be in school. If they can’t find a job, they can do community service while they look for one. They pay 30 percent of their income as rent, an amount based on the federal definition of affordable housing. They get 30 percent of that back when they leave the program.
Clients are only allowed to stay in transitional housing for a year and a half, and they age out once they turn 22.
Drugs and alcohol are not allowed. JYS offers its own substance abuse counseling, or it can set up clients with third-party services. Counselor Lindsey Bray says some issues are too serious for kids to be in the program.
“If they do come in and they have some issues with chemical dependency or they’ve got a chronic mental health concern, then we expect that they’re either already actively managing that situation or we try to connect them with resources to make that happen,” Bray says.
Alyssa White says for her, stability was the most beneficial part of the transitional living program.
“I never really had that one person or group of people to be, like, hey we’re here for you,” she says.
White says she’s still in touch with the JYS staff, and knows they’ll be there for her no matter what issues come up in her life.