By Joseph Robertia
For some teenagers, it can be hip to have tight jeans, but there’s nothing cool about having clothes you’ve completely outgrown. Some may like to have purposefully scraggily looking hair, but no one likes having an itchy, dirty scalp. Some teens like staying out late, but not having no place to go home to.
Unfortunately, for some teens right here on the Kenai Peninsula, the latter is their reality — no home and not knowing where their next meal is coming from.
“We don’t have stats for this year, but last year there were 300 teens here that were homeless and going to school, but we don’t know how many might be homeless and not going to school,” said Krista Schooley, of Soldotna, who with her husband, Shawn, began The Tribe, a nonprofit group devoted to meeting the needs of area youth aged 13 to 25 struggling with homelessness.
“Some are teens whose whole families are homeless. Others are teens who were kicked out. Others left home to get out of an unsafe environment, such as where they were being physically abused, sexually abused or where drugs or alcohol were a problem,” she said. “Regardless of the reasons, now they have nowhere to go or they surf from couch to couch.”
Schooley knows what this is like firsthand, as she left home for a year and a half as a teen
after getting into a dispute with her parents. As an adult, when she began seeing teens struggling with homeless situations, she felt compelled to help.
“My son is very active at the Soldotna Skate Park, and we began to see the signs, and see the need,” she said. “We don’t want to expose them, because they don’t want people to know, but we wanted to help them and create an awareness of this problem.”
The Tribe works in partnership with various organizations in the community devoted to helping children and young adults.
“We’ve done clothing closet programs, after-school homework programs, a Christmas wish list, movie nights and birthday parties during the school year,” she said.
They also organize their own events, such as a bimonthly barbecue at the Soldotna Skate Park to not only feed the ever-hungry teen skaters, but to let those in need know that their community is willing to help them.
“We want to form relationships with them and let them know people out there actually care about them,” Schooley said.
In addition to the grilled grub, Schooley and her husband have enlisted community support to emulate a teen-support plan successful in the Lower 48 called the Backpack Project. This weekend was the kickoff for the project.
“We’ve asked for donations of backpacks, food and hygiene products, and the way it works is we give the kids a backpack full of these items and in a week they can bring them back and we’ll fill them again,” she said.
Spreading the word through a Facebook page — TheTribe Alaska — that now has more
than 800 members, the Schooleys have been able to cache goods for the teens, but are still in need of many more items.
“Food is the number one thing. We’d like to get nonperishable items that are light, such as macaroni and cheese singles, breakfast bars, granola — things like that. We also would like to get bottles of water and drink mixes to go with them,” Schooley said.
In the future, Schooley said that they may solicit business sponsors to help with their endeavors, but right now they are asking community members for support in order to create more awareness on the individual level.
“This is real. It’s a problem right here, and it’s something we can do something about,” she said.