Leaving Homelessness Behind
Covenant House President Kevin Ryan reflects on a recent trip to Hollywood, where he spent time with Covenant House California youth and staff and joined a CHC outreach team connecting with youth living on the streets.
I've just returned from a visit to Covenant House California in Hollywood, where youth facing homelessness are about to enroll in our first-ever, fully accredited barber college. Covenant House California has converted the original Charlie Chaplin movie studio into our new Precise Barber College and barber shop. It will train and graduate youth overcoming homelessness in a rigorous 10-month program in entrepreneurship, hair cutting and styling, and small business management.
With my bald head, I may never be a client of our new barbershop, but I couldn't be happier to see Covenant House finding new ways to help young people leave homelessness and poverty behind.
The Covenant House California outreach team let me tag along Monday night as they drove across Hollywood, connecting with youth who were sleeping on the streets. It was an unusually cool night, so we distributed blankets in addition to sandwiches, water, and hygiene kits. Some of the kids had pop-up tents they bought at Target for $15; some just had sleeping bags or discarded boxes.
The least interesting thing about these kids is homelessness. I say it a lot because it's true. They all have short lives and long stories. Most of the kids I visited with on the streets of Hollywood were exhausted.
One trio — a young woman and two young men — said they used to be a group of four, until the girlfriend of one of the young men caught the flu and died. "I can't stop seeing her," he said with tears in his eyes. He was clutching a sandy-colored, reed-thin dog that he adopted last year, named Kal-El. I fed the dog some bread and water as I listened to the boy. "We got you," one of his friends said back. "You alright man, you alright."
I'm still rattled by the memory of their faces and the idea that a homeless teenager in 2018 can get the flu on the streets and die.
About 20 minutes after our outreach team left them, we met a shivering 18-year-old boy. He was sleeping rough with two friends and a stray dog they'd adopted. I don't know for certain, but from his affect, he seemed to be dealing with serious trauma. The teen looked up at Heidi, our outreach director, and said, "I've never been like this before. I just can't no more. I'm tired, you know?"
Another of his friends came up to me and asked for a sandwich and water. We had plenty at that point. He took the food and water bottle and said, "Say a prayer for me." So I said, "Why don't we pray together?" I took his left hand and he mumbled a few words I couldn't understand at first. Then he just repeated, "God help me" over and over, and I listened to him. When he fell silent, I let the wind carry his plea, and then said, “Amen.”
I can't recall ever seeing so many homeless youth sleeping outside on a single night in a U.S. city. The Cov Hollywood team did a beautiful job keeping it real, inviting kids into Covenant House, and sharing with them the services we offer. We’ll be there when they’re ready to come inside and leave homelessness behind.