As part of its commitment to double the amount of transitional housing available to homeless youth in Anchorage, on Sept. 23, CIRI-affiliated nonprofit Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC), along with Covenant House Alaska, celebrated the grand opening of Dena’ina House, a 26-bed facility in downtown Anchorage.
“We saw we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel to support our homeless youth,” said CIRI shareholder and CITC President and CEO Gloria O’Neill. “By joining forces with Covenant House, we knew we could leverage our staff and expertise and bring the strength of Alaska Native values and culture to help create a larger and more sustainable program.”
Covenant House’s Rights of Passage (ROP) program teaches youth ages 18-21 how to live independently – doing their own shopping, cooking and cleaning, sharing meals and developing friendships. While learning these crucial life skills, ROP residents must complete their education and maintain employment.
It’s a proven model that works. Historically, 80 percent of ROP graduates exit the program employed and equipped to live on their own in stable housing. Conversely, according to a 2014 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, unstable housing creates a negative feedback loop: unstable housing can compromise physical and mental health, poor physical and mental health can limit employment, and limited employment can lead to continued housing instability.
Over the past three years, the average daily census at Covenant House has increased 58 percent. Many residents are from rural Alaska, and nearly all of them are Alaska Native. ROP serves 14 youth with an additional 15 waitlisted.
“Six years ago, we opened our Dena’ina Transitional Model for Youth but it wasn’t being used to capacity,” said Kelly Hurd, senior development director for CITC. “When we asked ourselves who’s good at housing vulnerable youth, Covenant House was the obvious answer.”
Under a 10-year operating agreement with Covenant House, CITC purchased the property in downtown Anchorage to double ROP’s housing and services. CIRI affiliated nonprofit Cook Inlet Housing Authority served as project manager. Culturally responsive support and services to Alaska Native ROP residents will be provided by CITC’s Youth Education and Employment Services department.
Business executives, government officials, nonprofit leaders and members of the Anchorage community packed the first floor of the Dena’ina House during its grand opening celebration. Former CIRI Board chair, Dena’ina Elder, CIRI shareholder and current CITC Board chair Clare Swan led the group in a blessing. “This (Dena’ina House), for me, will be a place where people see each other and hear each other,” she said.
Joy, a current ROP resident, served as youth speaker. “We are here to celebrate the fact that we made it,” she said. “This feeling, this view from the top of the mountain, was worth the climb. As I look at the possibilities, I smile. This might be a temporary place, but it’s my middle and I want to make it count.”
For more information about the Dena’ina House, visit www.citci.org.