A group spanning the length of five blocks marches in downtown Soldotna, Alaska, to celebrate Pride Month on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

A group spanning the length of five blocks marches in downtown Soldotna, Alaska, to celebrate Pride Month on Saturday, June 12, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Housing org seeks to create safe homestays for queer youth

Choosing Our Roots houses LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24 with a host person or family

Choosing Our Roots, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide stable housing to LGBTQ+ youth in Alaska, is looking to expand engagement on the Kenai Peninsula.

Kat Banner, the volunteer coordinator at the organization, said there are multiple queer youth in need of services on the peninsula.

“We are just trying to further establish our roots on the KP,” they said. “There just aren’t enough queer-affirming spaces on the peninsula and we’re trying to build that.”

One of the most impactful ways people can get involved, Banner said, is by applying to become a host.

Currently, there are no hosts on the Kenai Peninsula, and six participants in need of stable housing. That doesn’t include the number on the waitlist, Banner said, which is full as well.

Choosing Our Roots houses LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24 with a host person or family.

For minors under 18, Banner said the organization generally starts by contacting the family of origin — either in an effort to mend relationships with legal guardians or to receive power of attorney clearance to house them with qualified adult hosts.

Some youth participants come from the Office of Children’s Services, foster care system or are already emancipated or experiencing homelessness and act as their own legal guardians, but Banner said the organization receiving power of attorney is much more common among Choosing Our Roots participants.

To become a host, people must be at least 25 years old and have a private space with a door for the Choosing Our Roots participant. Hosts attend a two day skill-share session to learn about the process, undergo a state and federal background check, meet with the participant and a Choosing Our Roots moderator multiple times to establish a preliminary relationship, and then welcome the participant into their home.

Hosts also attend monthly case meetings, and Banner said there are regular check-ins with participants and hosts to assure the living situation is conducive to everyone’s lifestyle.

Banner said the program’s goal isn’t establishing a parental role for the youth, but more of a partnership.

“It’s like having a roommate that you mentor,” they said, noting that it’s about providing a safe space for queer youth to explore their identities and learn how to navigate the world.

“It can look differently depending on the participant and host,” Banner said.

Hosts receive a $300 stipend per month and participants get $150 for personal expenses. Banner said this funding is made available from donors and grants the organization receives.

Along with the need for hosts, Banner said the organization is also looking for more people to invest in the mission of Choosing Our Roots.

Community investors can attend the organization’s events, vote as board members and participate in committee work, among other things. Ultimately, Banner said Choosing Our Roots affiliates work together to create positive spaces for LGBTQ+ youth across the state, including those most vulnerable to housing insecurity.

“We’re always looking for more people to donate their time to the program,” Banner said.

To learn more, visit choosingourroots.org.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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