Taking Our Message to Washington
Covenant House President Kevin Ryan spoke before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 15, where he addressed the bitter intersection of youth homelessness and human trafficking, and extolled the efforts of the business community to take on the fight against human trafficking.
Kevin was invited by the Chamber of Commerce to be the keynote speaker at its Integrating Services for Trafficking Survivors event near the White House, one of numerous events held this January to mark Human Trafficking Awareness Month in the United States.
Across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Central America, where Covenant House provides residential programs and vital services to children and youth facing homelessness in 31 cities, the most common form of human trafficking is commercial sexual exploitation.
“The cruelty of the sex trade and the vulnerability of the young people caught up in it are hard for many people to imagine. We see the impact every day at Covenant House,” Kevin said.
A groundbreaking study released by Covenant House in 2017 found that 1 in 5 youth who reside with Covenant House had experienced sex trafficking or labor trafficking while living on the streets or in precarious conditions, and 22% were given money for sex the very first night they became homeless.
Kevin cautioned the business leaders about common misconceptions about human traffickers. Most, he said, do not hold their victims in chains. Instead, they use psychological and emotional coercion, drugs, and isolation to create dependency in their victims, limiting both the possibility and means of escape.
“We will never end human trafficking unless and until we end youth homelessness. The hunger, homelessness, and desperation of kids on the streets puts a bullseye on their backs. I implore all the warriors waging this fight against exploitation to see the end of youth homelessness as an essential front,” Kevin said.
“We can end human trafficking and youth homelessness,” he underscored. “It’s just a matter of our values and priorities.”
Kevin described the Delta Air Lines Career Readiness Program at Covenant House Georgia as a prime example of what is possible when business leaders lock arms with Covenant House to help trafficking survivors overcome suffering. “It’s a program in which Delta employees teach our youth fundamental skills for building a successful career and positive work relationships, and introduce them to airline jobs, including customer service, baggage handling, guiding big jets at the airport, and more,” Kevin said.
The Delta program rolled out in 2017 and has since expanded to Covenant House sites in New York City and Los Angeles. It will soon open at sites in Detroit and Mexico City. The program, run entirely by Delta Air Lines employees, already has produced career-path jobs for several Covenant House youth.
Cisco is one of Covenant House’s most essential corporate partners. The company has stepped up in a big way to help young people overcome homelessness and trafficking, Kevin said. “Cisco has been a hands-on partner since 2014. Last year, Cisco employees participated in our Sleep Out movement at 12 Covenant House locations plus three more cities, raising over $2 million for food, clothing, shelter, medical care, job training, and housing for young survivors of homelessness and human trafficking.
Corporate partners like Delta, Cisco, Zillow, Accenture, Tao Group, the New York Yankees, and many others are an ever-deepening source of support and hope for the young people of Covenant House, Kevin said. “Not only do they provide life-changing financial support; they also have made it their moral and corporate responsibility to make this fight against pimps and traffickers a priority for their employees.”