From Desperation to Dedication: Derrick's Journey and the Promise of Linden Commons

Former Homeless Teen and alumni Derrick Cooney - CHCA Housing Manager | Covenant House

Derrick Cooney’s personal journey paints a poignant picture of triumph over adversity. Derrick provides professional security guard services for a living. Now he’s securing the grounds of Linden Commons, a new apartment community for young people overcoming homelessness who have transitioned out of Covenant House California to a life of independence.

Once a CHC resident facing homelessness himself, Derrick is now the guardian of dreams, the housing manager ensuring that the path he walked is smoother for those who follow.

Prior to moving into Covenant House California in Hollywood, Derrick was on skid row in a shelter, with his mom and sister, until he aged out. 

“I wasn’t going to be able to be with my mom anymore, so we went to live in a hotel.”

Former homeless teen Derrick Cooney | Covenant House

But his mom was paying for the hotel “check to check,” he says, until she could no longer afford it.  “So they went to a women's shelter and I was running the streets, sleeping wherever I could find. I was about 20 years old.”

While sleeping at a friend’s house, Derrick had decided to sleep at a park so he wouldn’t overstay his welcome, but his friend suggested Covenant House. 

“He didn’t know the exact address, but he told me the cross streets. I took the train and when I got off, I was looking around. I couldn’t find it, but I kept walking. At the time there was a Food for Less, a McDonald’s, and a white bird in the sky,” Derrick said, referencing the iconic Covenant House logo. 

“I said ‘that’s got to be it.’ Seeing that bird changed my life. I walked a whole new path after that.” 

“The chapter began like that,” Derrick said. “They took my info and put me on the waiting list. Two days later, they called and said Derrick we have a bed for you. I dropped everything and went back.” 

His prior knowledge of shelters came from his experience on skid row, but this one was different. 

“It was like a family. I had never seen so many people so happy to help youth out and help people find housing. It made me feel good. I was hurting, homeless, and couldn't provide for myself. I felt bad, but the Covenant House made me feel good. It flushed that away. It’s like their goal was to block out the outside world, and I swear they did that.”

Derrick lived there from 2015 to 2019, and did not leave until he found stable housing.

He believes that his transition from homelessness to a stable life is a testament to the transformative power of compassion and opportunity.

Now, as the manager of Linden Commons, Derrick's commitment is unwavering. His duties go beyond the conventional, as he personally welcomes young Covenant House alumni, helps them learn to open and secure their own doors with brand new keypad locks, and provides them with essentials. The setup of Linden Commons, where Derrick resides in the first apartment, while alumni occupy the rest, symbolizes the unity and support crucial for those escaping the cycle of homelessness.

Derrick's own struggles with high rent and the stress that accompanies it give him a unique understanding of the challenges faced by the youth. Linden Commons becomes not just a physical space but a haven for renewal and empowerment. It's a sanctuary where young people like Derrick can create their own happiness, save up, and break free from the haunting fear of falling back into homelessness.

Beyond his managerial responsibilities, Derrick's dedication to the safety and well-being of the residents is palpable. His enforcement of the no-smoking policy, the distribution of A/C remotes, and his meticulous attention to the security of the complex demonstrate a genuine concern for the happiness and safety of each person under his watchful eye.

Linden Commons - Covenant House

“A lot of our residents have way more to worry about in life right now, and have so much on their minds that when they come home, they aren’t thinking about a gate. That’s the least of their concerns,” Derrick shared, referring to the entrance and exit gate to the apartment complex. “That’s whyI made sure I got my own remote to the gate so that I can be the one responsible for it. When they go in and out, I’m watching through the window and can just open and close it from where I am. I just want to make sure everyone is safe and feels comfortable. I know how stressful this can be.”   

As Derrick reminisces about his own transformative experience at Covenant House California, he emphasizes the vital role of donors. 

“Their contributions not only provide the essentials but also create opportunities for education, employment, and now, affordable housing like Linden Commons.”

Derrick's heartfelt gratitude echoes through his words, assuring donors that their investment in the Cov is a lifeline.

“Everything the donors help provide for us– the jobs created, clothes on our backs, food in our mouths, and now these apartments — if I could talk to supporters personally, I’d say ‘you're not wasting your time, money, nothing. Because Covenant House plans to help every single one of us out. They give everybody a chance,” said Derrick. “They are really doing what they’re planning to do: to end youth homelessness. But it’s up to the youth to go out there and grab the opportunity.” 

Derrick feels the supporters in the Covenant House Community should have the mindset of “help me help you” when it comes to young people. “It takes things,” he said. “We’re not asking donors to babysit anybody, all we can do is put the opportunity in front of them.” 

Derrick plans to continue being part of the Covenant House community and stay involved in any way he can. 

“I want to donate my advice, my time, my knowledge, to help the youth. And when I get more money. I’ll donate that, too.”

The promise of Linden Commons and the resilience of individuals like Derrick remind us that, with support and opportunities, every youth has a chance to rewrite their story and emerge from the darkness into the warm embrace of a brighter future.

His stay at Covenant House ended in 2019, but during the current affordable housing crisis, having this job at the Cov is still helping Derrick maintain a life of independence and stability. 

“Rent is very, very high. It’s so easy to fall back into that same situation we came out of. Before I moved to Linden Commons, I was paying 700 for a single room, sharing everything with everybody I lived with. I hadn’t found my own apartment yet because of rent being so high. No matter how much I saved up.” 

But Derrick’s new job as housing manager gives him the opportunity to save up. “I can feel happy again and not have to worry about falling back into homelessness. I got out of the Cov, and the place they moved me into I was in all that time until I came back for this job. It was a no-brainer for me to take this opportunity.”

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