The first 72 hours: critical needs, critical care
Our crisis shelters are short-term programs where a homeless child's most pressing, urgent needs are met immediately. There is no requirement that a young person be referred to us through an official channel – they can come to us anytime, day or night.
Within the first critical minutes of a child's intake to Covenant House, a counselor will provide the most basic necessities: emergency medical care, a hot meal, a shower and beyond.
During the intake process, our kids share their stories with trained staff so we can identify their immediate needs and then plan for the best way to support them.
Each child receives three warm meals and evening snacks every day. If a kid walks through our doors in the dead of night and needs food – we always have a meal waiting for him or her.
A standard Crisis Shelter room includes minimal furniture (bunk beds and secured storage) and a shared bathroom.
Our bedrooms give kids safe space for sleeping, grooming and storing their belongings, but are not a hangout space. Instead, we have communal spaces throughout our buildings that are specifically there to build community, encourage healthy relationships and inspire our kids to pursue new opportunities. Our kids also have access to a closet full of clothes to help them land a job, celebrate a graduation or be prepared for the elements outside.
A cafeteria and gym, lounges and laundry rooms are all included in our list of communal spaces, making our facilities more of a home than a “homeless shelter.”
Most Crisis Shelters have federally qualified health clinics on-site to provide immediate care. Our goal is that within 72 hours of the homeless child's intake appointment, they're seen in the medical clinic for a full physical.
Four things happen at that first medical appointment:
- We help young people access their health insurance or enroll them in one of the Affordable Care Act plans if they don't have any.
- We take a family medical history and a personal medical history – gathering as much information as possible from the young person.
- Typical labs are ordered to ensure that our kids are screened for both chronic and acute issues.
- A follow-up appointment is scheduled for the following week, when lab results have been received and evaluated so that treatment can begin for any diagnosed issues.
A large percentage of the homeless kids who come to Covenant House struggle with serious mental health problems. That's why the initial medical visit is so crucial – it allows us to give young people both the physical and psychiatric care they urgently need, as well as assess if a child may benefit from one of our unique mental health programs going forward.
We also have a Mental Health department organized as part of our Covenant House Residential Services. Our psychiatrists see patients on a planned schedule on referral from the medical clinic or from the residential social workers. They also respond to crises or urgent needs identified on the floors.
If a child needs legal aid during the intake process, Covenant House's staff lawyer is immediately available to provide assistance – whether it's getting a restraining order or identity change to protect against predators or handling unresolved legal issues that may prevent a kid from becoming a successful, employed adult.
The next steps after intake
The average length of stay at our crisis shelters is under 30 days, but every timeline is different.
Every child can leave Covenant House and come back voluntarily, as many times as they need. We know many kids need more than one chance to achieve a future free from homelessness – and that is exactly what we provide. For the children who choose to stay with our program, we develop individual case plans tailored to their specific needs so they can begin the next steps in the Continuum of Care.