"We Will Rebuild and Move Forward"
Hurricanes in Texas and Florida and earthquakes in Mexico over the past month damaged our Covenant House programs and will require costly repairs. But the storms and tremors also underscored another reality: the critical role Covenant House plays in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people impacted by these events -- homeless youth.
In a conference call, Covenant House President Kevin Ryan detailed for donors the impacts for the agency of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida, and a series of intense earthquakes near Mexico City, Mexico, where thousands of buildings collapsed and hundreds of people perished.
In each instance, Kevin highlighted the profound dedication of staff to protect the young people in their care, safeguarding the lives of the youth and taking in additional young people to the shelters amid devastating events.
“On the storm’s third night in Houston, during a break in the rain, six new kids entered our shelter,” he said. “They had nowhere else to turn. By then, a third of the county was under water, and none of the young people had any family. Three of them were drenched, and all of them were hungry.” Some 90 homeless youth were served at the height of Hurricane Harvey, a devastating category 4 storm.
During the hurricane, the Covenant House crisis shelter in Houston took on water through the ground, windows, walls, and roof, and extensive damage was later discovered upon removal of carpet and sheetrock. “It is possible we may have to tear down and rebuild the shelter,” Kevin said. “We are praying that is not the case.”
In Fort Lauderdale, one of our main buildings that includes our dining hall and life-skills area got hit hard. It will require a new roof and a lot of work to tear out and replace water-damaged walls throughout. We had been planning to re-open a portion of this building for 24 new shelter beds in November, but this will now have to be delayed while we repair the roof, walls, ceilings, bathrooms, along with replacing the beds and mattresses in eight damaged bedrooms.
In central Mexico, a series of earthquakes, the most intense with a magnitude of 8.1, struck between September 7th and 23rd, causing widespread destruction. Even after the September 19th quake that caused horrific damage in the capital city, Kevin was able to report, “Every child in our care is safe. We’ve accounted for each of them, even those who were in school when the earthquake struck.”
Some Covenant House staff did not fare as well, he regretted. Some have not been in contact, and their situation is unknown. Others, he said, “suffered devastating personal losses, including the loss of family members, and three lost their homes.”
Kevin detailed other consequences for Covenant House in Mexico. Two of seven shelters have cracks and fissures, and gas leaks forced us to evacuate another shelter. Young mothers and their babies had to be evacuated from their residence and have not yet been able to return. At a site under construction, two partially built walls collapsed and will have to be reconstructed.
While food prices soared after the earthquakes, our staff needed to buy food from outside sources at a much greater expense than cooking in-house. Water for drinking, bathing, and washing has been in very short supply, and Covenant House again has had to resort to the more costly option, bottled water.
“Our work in Mexico City,” Kevin underscored, “reaches the most vulnerable children in the world, some as young as 12 years old, including young mothers and their babies, victims of brutal sex trafficking rings, and boys who have escaped gangs in Central America’s violent Northern Triangle.”
Ryan expected the need for shelter and care that Covenant House offers homeless and trafficked youth to increase on the heels of the hurricanes and quakes, even as the agency is faced with costly repairs. “In all these cities, we are out in outreach vans, identifying young people who need safe space,” he said. “In Mexico City, our staff and volunteers are out in vans and on foot, seeking youth in need.”
He thanked the nearly 100 donors on the phone call, saying, “I can never thank you enough for being love in the world for our kids. I commit to you that we will repair our buildings and move forward. Thanks to your love, we will help our kids through the trauma of these disasters and continue with our mission -- to be love and hope in the world for homeless youth.”