Vigil Shines a Light on Anchorage Homeless Youth
Updated On: Nov 14 2013 11:03:13 PM AKST
Using candles and their feet, hundreds gathered in downtown Anchorage for a Covenant House candlelight vigil for homeless youth.
Covenant House has served more than 5,000 teenagers during the past year.
Many have been affected by abuse, drugs, prostitution and an array of other struggles, which is why the event is held each year.
Amanda, a 19-year-old resident of Covenant House, said she is trying to stay off the streets of Anchorage.
"2013 has been my homeless year, I guess you can say," she said. She admits making some bad choices and has spent most of the year sleeping on couches and floors with people who proved to be bad influences.
"The environment I was in just wasn't good," she said. "I was working, yet there was partying around me all the time."
With no money and nowhere to go, Amanda said it is easy to give into temptations just as a way to survive.
"A lot of people get caught up stealing, selling drugs, stuff like that," she said. "You get desperate honestly."
That reality of despair and being alone is familiar for many homeless youth in Anchorage.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said many at-risk teens are victims of abuse. Special Agent Jolene Goeden said sex traffickers are good at recognizing people with a self-esteem and know how to exploit that.
"You had an individual who walked into the transit center, and a significantly older male who is handing out business cards to youth saying, 'If you need a place to stay, you can come and stay here,'" she said.
Amanda said that type of interaction is common.
"You're a pretty face, so someone is going to want to pick you up quick," she said. "There are some girls who are like, 'Oh, I'm cold, I am just going to do it anyways.'"
The Covenant House is trying to help people in similar situations to make different decisions.
"They have the courage to walk in and say, this is what I need, can you help me?" said Alison Kear, executive director. "Many never have had someone positively help them in their life."
Amanda said because of the resources offered at Covenant House, she is able to save money while working and taking college classes.
Her goal is to become a pediatrician.
Another former resident just got a full ride to Johns Hopkins University Medical School.