An update on COVID-19 from Covenant House President Kevin Ryan
Dear Friends and Supporters of Covenant House,
This weekend, a young mom wiped away tears as she fed her baby. She lost both her jobs this week. As stores and restaurants close due to the threat of COVID-19, more of us are worrying not just about the virus, but also life’s essentials.
And that hit home for me in a different way on my drive back from Covenant House. I stopped at our local supermarket and couldn’t buy some of the most basic food and sanitary items for my family. I know by now you’ve already experienced the same.
Staring at those shelves and thinking back to breakfast, I must admit, a real fear shot through my body. How are we going to keep over 2,000 young people every night at Covenant House fed, safe, secure, and healthy during the coronavirus outbreak?
I took a deep breath. Then I thought of thousands of supporters who’ve kept our mission alive for nearly 50 years, and the fear slowly subsided, replaced by trust and a feeling of gratitude.
Covenant House exists because thousands of quiet heroes with families and bills and busy lives and joys and sorrows decide that young people should not be homeless and alone. That children should not suffer, but instead should be cherished and celebrated, each and every one of them. That kids need family, in good times and in times of uncertainty, unknowing and crisis.
How do we move forward in this great unknowing?
What propels many youth facing homelessness through the darkness and into the great promise of their lives is grace, hard work and adults lifting them up to see the light.
What got us through 9/11 was grace, hard work and lifting each other up with love. In fact, what has gotten us through all manner of natural disasters, violence and heartbreak in all our years is grace, hard work and lifting each other up with love.
So let’s find one another there as we face this virus, confident of God’s grace, grateful for each other’s hard work, and lifting one another up in love.
We have identified accessible, safe quarantine space at each of our houses in the event a youth manifests COVID-19 symptoms. If a youth presents with symptoms or has been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed or is symptomatic, we will care for them in social isolation to prevent infection.
Each Covenant House program has implemented a COVID-19 emergency plan, including essential staffing and bans on both domestic and international travel for staff. We understand that to prevent infection and community spread, prevention must be our top priority right now.
To prevent exposure to COVID-19, we have implemented a revised welcome process for youth, including recommended questions from government authorities. We are relying on trusted and respected health services when researching and communicating about COVID-19. These include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), and the World Health Organization (WHO).
We are regularly deep-cleaning and disinfecting frequently used common areas of our buildings and all surfaces (e.g., door knobs, handles, cabinets, railings, etc.). We have hand-washing signage posted around all our buildings, and “cover your cough” signs at entrances, washroom sinks, and high-traffic areas.
We are taking these steps with big doses of kindness and love, doing everything in our power to protect the health and safety of our youth and our staff.
We face many challenges ahead. The heartbreaking truth is that COVID-19 is threatening to disrupt our hard-won progress for many youth facing homelessness. In fact, homeless communities are more vulnerable to the coronavirus— and more likely to get sick and suffer higher mortality rates.
Many of the young people at Covenant House arrive here medically neglected and their bodies bear the scars of life on the streets. Beyond the possible health consequences of the virus, its economic and social implications are already wreaking particular havoc on our kids’ lives.
Mass school closures are cutting a vital source of nutrition for millions of kids. Few colleges are committing to continue housing and feeding students who don't have a place to go, and we are preparing to serve hundreds more meals each week. Our young people who are desperate to work so they can become independent are seeing their shifts cut and jobs put on hold as those in the service, hospitality and transportation industries confront reductions in their business.
At the same time, critical supplies are running low in parts of the country. We are closely monitoring our pantry and supply stocks, including cleaning supplies, as we work to ensure youth experiencing homelessness can access essential resources right now.
I pray we can use this time of great unknowing and anxiety to open our hearts more to those who always live with great unknowing and anxiety. Those who face abuse and neglect. Those who face hunger and homelessness. Those whose neighborhoods and families are beset by violence. Those who are trafficked.
My life sucks so bad and now we gotta deal with this crazy killer virus.
Recently, one of our kids burst into tears in the elevator. “My life sucks so bad and now we gotta deal with this crazy killer virus,” he sobbed.
He wasn’t sick, but his anxiety filled the elevator. He opened up and poured out the pain of his life. There is so much anxiety among all of us now. We have to help each other very intentionally.
As this pandemic unfolds, we’ll keep sharing updates on the needs of our youth, how Coronavirus is affecting local communities and common sense steps we can each take to limit the impact.
Yes, COVID-19 will fiercely test us, and there are very tough days ahead for all of us, particularly kids confronting homelessness. But this virus will not undo the world. It is no match for a people united in hope and devoted to confronting it in common cause.
Thank you for being love in the world for our kids, and please be assured of our prayers for you and those you love.
We are all in this together.