A community is not judged on how well it takes care of its most wealthy and powerful citizens. It is judged on how compassionately and how well it takes care of its least powerful and most vulnerable.
Daniel is 14. He was 13 when he arrived at our shelter, fresh from a remote village in Western Alaska. His adult caregiver drove up to the steps of Covenant House Alaska (CHA), watched him get out of the car and drove off. He did not know anyone as he walked through the doors. He had only been in Anchorage a few days.
With eyes wide open, Daniel has thus far survived Anchorage but not without challenges. For his first several weeks at CHA, he slept in the common area on a mat. Being in the common area meant he was often the last asleep and the first awake because of noise and activity. He had bouts of loneliness despite never being alone. The common area allows for no privacy. CHA has cared for thousands of kids like Daniel, despite facility deficiencies including a lack of space. The mission is critical, and Covenant House finds a way: Our house is full but our doors are always open.
It has become increasingly clear that Alaska's largest shelter for unaccompanied homeless youth is too small to adequately care for kids who need help. Throughout most of our nearly 25-year history in Alaska, CHA has had enough beds and space to meet the need. But last year, throughout our various programs, more than 4,000 youths were served. Many ended up sleeping on mats, spread out in common areas.
It is time to honor our community obligation to the youngest and most vulnerable among us. It is time to provide more than a mat, more than a temporary, makeshift space to kids who have no family, no home, nowhere else to go. Covenant House is building a new home -- a home where everyone who needs a bed will have one to sleep in.
This is not about a building. It is about legacies. We live in a state that despite its wealth has among the highest rates in the nation for child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault and substance abuse. These issues in our adult population end up victimizing our kids. Nearly half the girls who seek refuge at Covenant House have been sexually abused, and 75 percent of Covenant House kids report substance abuse by a caregiver at their last residence. This project is our opportunity to reach kids who are hurting while they're still kids, still heartbreakingly vulnerable and amazingly redeemable.
Our new home -- the volunteers and staff who will heal in it, the smells of dinner that will fill it, the memories that will unfold in it, the redemption that will spring out of it -- will be our community legacy about which we will all be proud. It will be a home that is functional and practical and beautiful. It will honor and provide the space necessary for kids to realize and begin to achieve their potential. Its walls will communicate our belief in them. It will allow them to rest, to heal, to eat. And like any good family, our job is to love our Covy kids as best we can ... and then to step aside so that they can make their own way.
So please join us. Our house may be full but there is room for more. We will be holding the groundbreaking ceremony at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday at the corner of Eighth Avenue and A Street, the location of our new home. We are asking our fellow Alaskans to join us in providing the best possible community legacy.
This is a great city in a great state. I am confident that my fellow Alaskans will be generous to assure future generations that we care for the most vulnerable among us.
Ethan Schutt is the chair of the board of directors for Covenant House Alaska. For more information visit www.ourhouseisfull.org.