We will not close.
The letter is a jarring reminder of the impact the coronavirus crisis has had on frontline health care and service providers. It’s a letter that must be carried at all times in these uncertain days…
“Please be advised that Shakeema North is an essential worker. This staff member is a provider of basic necessities to an economically disadvantaged population in a homeless shelter…”
For five years, Shakeema North has left her home in New Jersey and has been an essential part of the lives of young people overcoming homelessness at Covenant House New York. Never in those five years did she need to remember to bring along a letter like this.
“Our youth need us now more than ever,” said Shakeema. “Yesterday one of our young people asked why staff members were still coming to work. He was surprised we were here in the midst of this crisis. He thought Covenant House would close and he and the other youth would be back on the streets.
“I assured him that we weren’t closing and that all of us were here because we are committed to ensuring he and his peers would be taken care of.”
Shakeema says the question from the young man reflects the treatment he and most of the youth have experienced in their lives before coming to Covenant House. “Our young people are used to having doors shut on them and being abandoned at their greatest time of need,” she said. “It was good to be able to reassure him in that moment that our commitment to him and all the youth sleeping in a Covenant House bed is unconditional.”
Shakeema and Covenant House staff in New York and in 30 other cities across the U.S., Canada and Latin America are working hard to keep a sense of normalcy at Covenant House while practicing safe social distancing.
“While we are limiting the number of youth that are accessing a space at a time, youth are still able to receive job training and mental health services, attend programming in the art and music rooms, and we’ve set up gaming stations on the residential floors for video gamers as a way for youth to engage – at a distance. It’s important we try to keep our youth engaged and assure them we are here for them no matter what, especially during this crisis.”