Kyle Pfannestiel

(Idaho Capital Sun) A coalition of Idaho nonprofits is matching donations to support Idaho organizations helping combat homelessness until the end of the year.

According to the 2023 Point-in-Time Count, 2,298 Idahoans face homelessness. The 13th annual Avenues for Hope Housing Challenge is an online fundraising campaign for 97 Idaho nonprofits that address homelessness in a state where affordable housing is in short supply.

The 2023 Point-in-Time Count is an annual estimation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine the number of Americans without safe, stable housing.

The event will end Dec. 31. More than 2,500 people have donated so far, bringing the total amount raised to around $1.2 million, according to the Avenues for Hope website.

The Home Partnership Foundation, a nonprofit arm of Idaho Housing and Finance Association, organizes the Avenues for Hope Housing Challenge. The foundation provides critical resources to nonprofits in its network, and it is matching gifts of at least $25 to any nonprofit in the network, director of development for the Home Partnership Foundation, Deanna Ward, told the Idaho Capital Sun in a phone interview.

Nonprofits in the network cover a wide range of services for Idahoans facing homelessness, Ward said. That ranges from providing emergency shelter, homeless prevention, domestic violence shelter, budgeting skills and developing affordable housing.

“We hear pretty regularly from clients that have been helped and households that have succeeded in maintaining affordable rentals, maintaining their housing, kids that do better in school,” Ward said. “We hear from parents and adults that are able to have a place to get ready for work and stay successful in their job, which is really difficult to do if you don’t have a safe warm home to go to every night.”

Many of the participating nonprofits rely on Avenues for Hope to operate year round, Ward said. Their work has wide-reaching impacts on Idaho families and children across Idaho.

The campaign features a $350,000 pool of multiple prize challenges for the participating nonprofits, Ward said. For the first $2,500 raised by each nonprofit, Avenues for Hope matches each dollar raised, Ward said. The nonprofit that receives the most donation will win the largest prize challenge, $5,000.

People can donate at the Avenues for Hope website.

Lewiston center helps homeless youth 

Idaho children make up 20% of Idaho’s homeless population, with 461 children identified as homeless in the 2023 Point in Time Count.

In Lewiston, the LC Valley Youth Resource Center is a low-barrier homeless shelter in Lewiston that serves children 12 to 17 years old. Addressing youth homelessness is the path to end homelessness, Michelle King, the center’s volunteer president for the center, told the Idaho Capital Sun in an interview

“Most chronically homeless adults — their journey and homelessness began as children,” King said.

The organization focuses on countering adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, that are linked to substantial health outcomes, King said. People with four or more adverse childhood experiences are 30 times more likely to attempt suicide, a study published in the medical journal Lancet found.

The suicide rate in the Lewiston area is three times the national average, King said. Since opening three years ago, the LC Valley Youth Resource Center has conducted 41 suicide interventions with children, all being a success.

The LC Valley Youth Resource Center is also focused on promoting resilience, creating social connections and teaching life skills, King said.

The organization has three programs: a drop center which opens at 2:30 p.m. daily, a social period where kids can play video games or activities before a provided dinner, and an overnight program.

During the day program, kids can have a snack, take a shower, do their laundry, get new socks, have access to feminine hygiene products, other hygiene products and other concrete needs.

The overnight program hosts up to 16 displaced or distressed teens per night who meet the criteria of their safe teen assessment center, King said. Children who are wanted by law enforcement are not allowed to stay overnight. In this case, the center would contact local police, who King said they have a great working relationship with. Case managers screen kids’ physical and behavioral needs, then help them navigate potential resources that can help get back on their feet.

Avenues for Hope is the LC Valley Youth Resource Center’s largest local fundraiser, King told the Sun. The organization has secured grant funding for all of its operations, except for the last $33,000 to meet the organization’s goal, King said.

The organization hopes to build a robust transitional program for youth to help better prepare them for early adulthood and long term success, King said.

“We are sincerely grateful for Avenues for Hope and Idaho Housing. We wouldn’t be where we are without this,” King said.

In Emmett, schools help at-risk kids 

The Emmett Independent School District, which serves 2,500 students, has received funds from the Avenues for Hope Challenge for four years, the fundraiser’s website says.

Richard Winegar works to distribute funds to students at risk of homelessness.

Most of Emmet’s homeless population he’s worked with are living with family members or friends, finding temporary housing by couch surfing or staying in an RV on property owned by someone they know, Winegar told the Sun in an interview.

He helps distribute school materials, clothing, and free breakfast and lunch to at-risk students through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal program that ensures students who don’t have a regular place to sleep receive a free public education, the district’s website says.

But federal funds come with restrictions, Winegar says. Donations from fundraisers, like Avenues for Hope, help fill in the gaps, he said.

“In our district, we have some generous community members that contribute and then fundraisers like Avenues for Hope. We’re able to bring in additional funds that don’t have the same stipulations so we’re able to help out those families when they have other needs that come up.” Winegar said.

One family Winegar worked with recently was staying with family friends when their house flooded after pipes burst. Funds from donations helped the family stay in a hotel, but Winegar said federal funds couldn’t be used that way.

In Boise, nonprofit helps people fleeing abuse

Domestic abuse is one of the leading causes of homelessness in Idaho, according to a report last year by the Idaho Housing and Finance Association.

Located in downtown Boise, the Women and Children’s Alliance (WCA) is a nonprofit that services for women and children fleeing domestic abuse or sexual assault.

“We provide safety, healing and freedom from domestic abuse and sexual assault,” Philanthropy manager for WCA Bre Yung told the Sun in a phone interview. “We do that by providing completely free wrap-around trauma informed services. We have two safe shelters that are in a location we don’t share, that are open to women and children.”

Avenues for Hope is a great opportunity for spreading awareness of how domestic abuse and sexual assault are leading causes of homelessness, Yung said, and for building community for people fleeing domestic or sexual abuse.

The shelters provide for longterm stays up to about seven months, which include an emergency and transitional shelter, Yung said. She said the downtown location is open to anyone in the community, including men.

The center provides counseling, case management, court advocacy, financial empowerment and a prevention program, Yung said.

The center’s 24-hour domestic abuse hotline is 208-343-7025.

Salmon nonprofit relies on Avenues for Hope funds, leader says 

The Mahoney House in Salmon is a nonprofit that provides assistance, resources and supportive services to people fleeing domestic violence, survivors of sexual assault, dating violence and stalking.

The Mahoney House started in 1994 in response to nine suicides in Lemhi County in 1993, the organization’s website says. It became a nonprofit in 2001.

“Avenues for Hope is our primary funding source to be able to provide rental assistance, deposit assistance, utility assistance, for all those fleeing domestic violence, primarily women,” Executive Director of The Mahoney House Patrick Reagan told the Sun in a phone interview. “But I was just driving a man here to Idaho Falls today, to get these people out of horrible situations, dangerous situations.”

Most of the organization’s funding comes from grants, but the grants they typically receive do not pay for rent or helping relocate people, Reagan said, making donated money crucial for the organization located in an isolated rural community with minimal housing options.

“I’m gonna tear up. I’m just so grateful for the community support that we get through Avenues for Hope. And without it, we couldn’t do the work we do and help our neighbors that are trying to get out of horrible situations,” Reagan said.