We Must End Sex Trafficking of Our Alaska Youth

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In April 2017, Covenant House released a groundbreaking study that shed new light on the link between youth homelessness and human trafficking. The largest study ever of human trafficking among homeless young people, it was conducted in 10 cities nationwide, including Covenant House Alaska in Anchorage. The results were staggering. Of the 10 cities studied, Anchorage had the highest reported prevalence of trafficking. Below are excerpts from Alison Kear’s testimony she submitted to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs’ hearing on human trafficking.

Seven years ago, Anchorage police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned communities about a rise in rural Alaska Native girls and women who leave their families and villages for Anchorage and are then lured into the sex trafficking trade with the promise of security. There seems to be a market for young Alaska Native women who can be trafficked as other ethnicities. This is where I first learned about the severity of the trafficking problem in Alaska. In this presentation, I discovered that the number one spot that young people were being recruited for sex trafficking was, of all places, Covenant House Alaska. When I got over my shock and anger and sadness, I was committed to change that.

Unfortunately, we know Alaska suffers the highest rates of domestic violence, sexual assault and suicide in the country. The Alaska rape rate is two and a half times the national average. Child sexual assault in Alaska is almost six times the national average. And within the foster care system, Alaska Native children are seven times more likely to be in foster care than non-Native children. These are all risk factors that lead to extreme vulnerability and homelessness among Native youth. They are easy targets for sex traffickers who promise these youth security, love, companionship, a warm meal and a bed. These kids don’t have support networks or a community. So if Covenant House doesn’t find them first, who does? Traffickers.

Certainly, one way to help end sex trafficking is to end youth homelessness—the connection between the two is undeniable. And within the Anchorage community, we are coming together to do that. Covenant House Alaska has built strong partnerships with many organizations to help our homeless youth who are vulnerable to trafficking. We partner with Southcentral Foundation, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, First Alaskans Institute and Cook Inlet Housing Authority, who are all working inside our shelter and alongside us to heal the trauma all our at-risk youth have experienced.

We are also working to address the lack of training among health and law professionals so they can more quickly identify victims of sex trafficking. We partner with the Alaska Native Justice Center and the FBI, as well as Priceless, the anti-trafficking organization, and two local domestic violence organizations, STAR and AWAIC. Together, we serve all trafficking victims who walk through our shelter doors.

It’s going to take these kinds of unique partnerships to get a grip on this growing crime of sex trafficking in our state. These children are our children—our community members and the future of our state. We are more determined than ever to end their victimization.

 Alison Kear

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

For information on how you can volunteer to help end youth homelessness and human trafficking, please contact volunteer@covenanthouseak.org.

Pregnant and Abused Teen Finds Sanctuary and a Future at Covenant House

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“If it hadn’t been for Passage House and the amazing staff, I’m not sure I would be standing here today.”

“I was 18 when I found out about Passage House, the Covenant House program for pregnant and parenting teens who are homeless. I was about 8 months pregnant with my son, whose father abused me. At the time, I was living with relatives. The city bus was my only transportation.

Part of my story includes the fact that I spent my teenage years doing drugs and drinking, just about every day. But when I found out I was pregnant, I quit. I applied to Passage House and was accepted. There, I learned about caring for a newborn. Kathy, Gena and Anne were very helpful while teaching me how to parent my son. I learned a lot in our weekly groups and in our daily conversations. They all were very kind, encouraging and understanding.

I had been in an abusive relationship with the baby’s father, but after four years, I finally made the decision to leave him. With the help of Covenant House, I focused all my attention on my son and myself. I got a job as a teacher at an Early Head Start program, which then enabled me to earn my Child Development Associate credential. I’m happy to report I plan to start college for nursing soon!

The Passage House staff has been there for me through all of my ups and downs. I have turned to them to share my joys and struggles and they have always supported me. I am very grateful for them. I am here to tell you that there was a time when I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to parent my son, and if it hadn’t been for Passage House and the amazing staff I’m not sure I would be standing here today—the mother of an amazing little boy whom I love so very, very much.

I am so impressed by the community’s love and support for Covenant House. Thank you for continuing to support our at-risk youth, and the young mothers and their children. You have no idea how much it means to all of us.

 – Laura Cantrell, Covenant House Alaska and Passage House graduate

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

My Life has Changed So Much

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“To tell you this story, I’m going to start from the beginning, back to April 1, 2017. I lived in Nome, a small town just over 1,000 miles northwest of here. What led to me to Anchorage was being homeless in the bitter months of the brutal winter, living on the streets of Nome, in temperatures that reach -20 degrees below zero. In Nome, there was nothing for me. I was leading a miserable life. I had come to Covenant House Alaska on the first day of April at 4:00 p.m. to make a change.

At Covenant House, I took every opportunity to better my life. I found out about the JAG program (Jobs for America’s Graduates) at Covenant House, by coming into the office and talking with a few JAG specialists about the program. I got to know how good of a support system the program was. I asked about high school completion programs and I was so happy and excited to be getting back in school and finishing up my diploma. Ever since I re-enrolled into school through JAG, I’ve been going to school nonstop since day one. I’m proud of how much work I’ve put in over the last eleven months. I finished my Alaska Studies class with a 90% grade.

Honestly, I’m not working on my high school diploma just for myself. I’m doing it for my four nieces and my nephew back home to show them if I can do it, they can do it, too.

My life has changed so much since I came to Covenant House Alaska. If I hadn’t made the choice to leave, I would be living a miserable life back home on a daily basis. I wouldn’t have any stable housing. I wouldn’t be back in school, earning my high school diploma. I wouldn’t have words of encouragement, and support, and most of all…motivation. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in myself and I’ve gained a lot of independence. I’ve learned responsibility and professionalism, and how to manage my bank account properly. And I now have goals and plans for my life. My goals after I earn my high school diploma are enlisting into the United States Marine Corps, and possibly becoming police officer after my time in the military. Thank you ALL for supporting the youth of Covenant House Alaska.

–Kevin Thomas is now in stable housing, living independently, and is a proud advocate for at-risk youth of Alaska.

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

Graduation Day

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Now is the season of graduations. I have certainly been to my share of them.

I attended graduation last night and I barely held it together.

I was so proud of one our Covenant House grads but also a little sad that the road she had to take was so fraught with struggle and pain. Here are these kids, awkwardly crossing the stage with heads low, teetering on heels in their finest clothes, taking their diplomas and squeaking off stage terrified and holding their breath.

Each one was holding a piece of paper, and enough anxiety about the future to be palpable to the audience.

All these years of worry, geometry tutoring and tears…she got through it. We got through it.

It took nights strongly encouraging her to get to bed. It took all of the many case managers through the six years we’ve known her to teach her about her own self-worth, and how to build the skills necessary to complete her education and find a job that will help her respect herself.

It took breaking up fights, nail painting, and a ridiculous amount of pool. It took patience—and sometimes some pretty unorthodox approaches on our part—to be the adults in her life unlike any other.

She says that we raised her and a part of me hates that. No kid should be raised in a homeless shelter.

But then again, if you were going to have all of us on your team, maybe that’s a lucky thing.

—Program Director at Rights of Passage, CHA’s transitional living program for at-risk youth ages 18–21.

We are so proud of the determination and hard work of our young graduates. They’ve worked hard to achieve their goals while juggling jobs and life challenges most adults would find daunting. CHA offers many different education programs, including “Back on Track” and the nationally recognized “Jobs for America’s Youth” programs, as well as classes through Nine Star Education & Employment Services and the Anchorage School District. We also had youth graduate from the Southcentral Foundation’s Men’s Wellness Program and the Feed Me Hope Culinary School. We are excited about what the future holds for these high-achieving young people! 

For more information about how you can help CHA youth pursue their education and job goals, please contact Hilary Patterson, Director of Education & Employment at  (907) 339-4259 or hpatterson@covenanthouseak.org.

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.

In Her Own Words: A Story by Taylor*

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Without Covenant House I have no idea where I would be today. I do know, however, that I would not be parenting my son and living on my own, and I certainly wouldn’t be as hopeful about my future as I am today.

From a very early age, I was homeless. We spent most of our nights sleeping in parks, under bridges, or in a car with my family. This way of life was not safe, stable or supportive. My mother tried to hold things together. She started prostituting and we spent much of our life running from an abusive father.

By the age of 18, I was still homeless and did a lot of couch hopping. I finally ended up with a friend who lived in a cabin with no running water, no electricity, and an outside port-a-potty for the bathroom. It was there that I discovered I was pregnant with my ex-boyfriend’s child. I knew I needed help. I found Covenant House.

When I reached out to Covey, they reached right back and helped me overcome numerous barriers in my life. For one thing, my life experiences up to this point had taught me not put any trust in people. It took time to get to the point where I could trust the staff and for them to convince me that they truly did want the best for me. What I found at Covenant House was genuine care and compassion. They offered kindness, stability, support, medical care, resources I didn’t even know existed for me, and a lot of counseling which I needed more than I would ever have admitted at the time.

I had many tough decisions to make, like whether or not I’d be able to parent my precious little one. As I struggled with this and other decisions, the staff remained by my side every step of the way to help work through them.

At times it felt as if I were following in my mother’s footsteps and I’d get so discouraged it hurt, but I knew that there is a vast difference between my mother and me. With the help of Passage House, I got back on my feet. They gave me more than I could ever have asked for. They helped me build a resume, fill out applications, learn good parenting skills and I even learned how to cook. I eventually got a receptionist job and started saving money to put towards essential needs.

Covenant House gave me hope, the ability to trust again, and the opportunity to see a better future for my son and myself. If I could have one wish, it would be to be the best mother possible for him. I know now that I might be my mother’s child, but I don’t have to be my mother. I never want my son to go hungry, to ever feel unloved, or to ever have to fend for himself until he is absolutely ready. I am determined that he will not have the life I did.

Covenant House is a wonderful organization that has given, and continues to give, hope to thousands of homeless youth each year. Without this organization, I am pretty positive that there would be a lot more crime and teen suicide in Alaska. The staff at Covenant House genuinely cares about the youth of this community, and not just the ones who seek their services. As one of the youth who has needed the services they provide, I can tell you that there is nothing more amazing than people who truly care for you as an individual. And they can only do this, I understand, because of the wonderful support from the community. Thank you so much.

*Taylor’s name has been altered in consideration of her and her family.

To make a gift to Covenant House Alaska, please visit our donation page.