Most of us spent last night warm and dry in bed, sleeping relatively well. But a group of Fairbanks residents willingly spent that time outside in near-freezing temperatures. It was part of a fundraiser and awareness campaign called One Homeless Night, aiming to bring attention to the part of those in the community who don’t have a place to stay.
One Homeless Night is a national campaign that has seen involvement by both Fairbanks residents and students at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in recent years. This year’s event was hosted by local homeless nonprofit group Fairbanks Youth Advocates, next to their facility known as The Door.
During the event, participants construct makeshift structures using cardboard and spend the night in sleeping bags as a simulation of the conditions faced by the homeless. It’s a powerful experience, with participants working hard to stay warm and deal with outdoor conditions. Those who participate often come away with a heightened awareness and appreciation for homeless issues.
At the same time, One Homeless Night isn’t meant to be a truly “authentic” homeless experience. Being homeless is unpleasant at best and dangerous at worst. For the homeless, getting harassed or assaulted during the night is a real possibility, and in many cases being homeless makes it near impossible to hold down a job or provide for food and other basic life necessities. Many among the homeless struggle with mental illness for which they don’t receive effective treatment. And unlike those choosing to spend the night outside, the homeless often don’t have a “safety net,” a safe, warm place they can go if staying outside isn’t an option.
With their relatively new facility, The Door, Fairbanks Youth Advocates is serving one of the most vulnerable homeless populations: teenagers. Dozens, even hundreds of young people in Fairbanks don’t have stable housing, and some have to spend nights outside.
Other local shelters target homeless residents older than 18, and Fairbanks Youth Advocates opened The Door in 2012 as an effort to provide stability for young people and help them break the destructive cycle of chronic homelessness. Unlike those who have spent years or even decades on the street, a relatively small amount of help for many homeless young people can lead to positive results that last a lifetime — and huge cost savings for the community.
While it’s too late to participate in this year’s One Homeless Night event, it’s never too late to donate money, food or clothing to The Door or other local shelters. On its website, The Door lists high-demand items that it needs. They include food items such as fruit, juice and canned goods, as well as clothing needs such as socks and underwear.
Now is the time when being homeless in Fairbanks goes from being uncomfortable to potentially life-threatening. One Homeless Night is a meaningful reminder that many in our community are sorely in need of shelter and other amenities — and our help can go a long way.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,