An Alaska nonprofit is looking for hosts on the Kenai Peninsula to house homeless queer youth.
Choosing Our Roots matches volunteers with LGBTQ+ individuals between ages 13 and 24 who otherwise don’t have access to safe housing. The organization is now looking for hosts for six young people on the Kenai Peninsula who are either houseless or couch surfing, said Kat Banner, a volunteer coordinator for the organization.
They said what Choosing Our Roots does is a form of socially hosting — the practice of taking someone in for support and stability.
“Queer and indigenous peoples have been socially hosting for generations," they said. "And the purpose of COR was to formalize that. We wanted to build a housing model that was reflective of the demographic that we serve.”
LGBTQ+ youth experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate when compared with their non-LGBTQ counterparts. A 2014 survey found the most common reason queer youth said they were homeless was that they had run away or were forced out of their houses because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Choosing Our Roots is the only organization of its kind in Alaska. In 2020, it placed 13 youth in temporary homes, primarily in Anchorage and the Mat-Su.
The organization started up on the Kenai Peninsula last August. Banner said they’ve had one volunteer host on the peninsula so far.
But in a place this spread out, making matches can be hard. Volunteer families aren’t always based in the same communities as the youth who need housing.
“A host in Seward may not be the best situation for someone who is from Homer," Banner said.
Banner said their biggest need right now is in Soldotna and Seward, though they’re looking for volunteers in communities across the peninsula.
They said volunteers and youth have a chance to meet and make sure they’re good fits for one another. Hosts must be over 25 and go through a short training. A match requires a thumbs up from both parties.
"We’re very intentional in our matching process," Banner said.
Banner said they ask hosts to commit to three months. But they said even one month makes a difference.
Banner said the program is launching services in Bethel next year. They said they ultimately want to take Choosing Our Roots statewide.