Lives on Hold Due to COVID-19
Brianna fled her unsafe household in early February, just after COVID-19 made its first appearance in the United States. Even if she had known then that the pandemic would unleash incredible destruction across the country, she still would have run. She was determined to leave harsh and ruinous influences behind her and make a new life for herself.
She found Covenant House Illinois (CHIL) in the heart of Chicago and began dropping in at the Youth Development Center. The staff welcomed Brianna with love, respect, and services that included meals, counseling, and links to medical care and housing and job opportunities.
By mid-March, Brianna was a resident at CHIL. She actively looked for work and felt she was “on the right track,” she says. Then came COVID-19 and the Illinois governor’s “stay home” order to try to slow the grim spread of the pandemic across the state.
Just like that, Brianna says, her “blessings went on pause.”
Brianna’s story is repeated again and again across our 31 locations in six countries, where many Covenant House youth have lost jobs to the pandemic. For young people overcoming homelessness, those are not just jobs; they mean recovery, progress, new-found self-esteem, and a means to stability, home, and independence.
Dalonte came to CHIL just ahead of Brianna and was equally motivated. Already employed at one company, he switched for a new opportunity with I.C. Stars, a technology-based workforce development and leadership training program with a paid internship. COVID-19 brought that opportunity to a standstill.
Now Dalonte says he feels “discombobulated, like nothing is moving forward.” He’s anxious for his career goals to pick up again and to afford his own apartment. Even the mental health services he feels would help him through this period are stretched and less readily available because of the COVID-19 crisis.
For October, a youth who has been accessing CHIL’s youth development program for the past year, the COVID-19 crisis is leaving her feeling “incomplete.” She says the public health emergency is keeping her from finding the job she wants so much. “I don’t have access to the resources I need because everything is shut down. I can’t be productive and do the things I need to get done.”
It’s an anxiety that courses through the young people at Covenant House all across our movement, an added layer of stress on top of the trauma they’re still working through from their days without a home.
At CHIL and all across our movement, our dedicated staff continue to provide youth guidance, comfort, and hope, while also keeping them safe from COVID-19 infection.
Program Coordinator Gloria West says CHIL’s first action was to explain the pandemic, how everyone is affected by it, and what the shelter-in-place mandate is all about. “We dialogued with them for a few days, encouraged them to express their feelings, and validated their feelings,” she says.
The young people were clearly worried and afraid of COVID-19’s impacts. “We needed to keep them connected to their mental health services as best we could,” she adds. Though in-person care is impossible because of the gravity of the pandemic, CHIL’s longtime mental health care partner continues to offer care to youth by phone.
Creative programming, including art and music therapies, helps fill in the gaps, and case management continues to keep youth on track toward their dreams.
And while many industries have closed down due to the pandemic, others find themselves shorthanded. “We encourage youth to take advantage of opportunities that are available now,” Gloria says.
Brianna hopes to do that. She says she is trying to stay positive, and she refuses to accept that her future is on hold. She continues to send out resumes and to peer through the new layer of darkness that is COVID-19 to the new life she believes will one day be hers.