Emergency Rocks, but Does Not Rattle Covenant House Honduras

Fire at Covenant House Honduras youth residence affecting homeless youth | Covenant House

Photo Credit: La Tribuna

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On Sunday night, an intense fire broke out a block away from our main Covenant House Honduras residence in Tegucigalpa. It spread quickly, consuming at least a dozen neighboring businesses and spewing toxic fumes and ash. 

Hustling the 70 youth in residence out of the building, Covenant House Honduras staff got everyone to safety. In Honduras, as in Guatemala and Mexico, the children and youth we serve are the youngest across our Covenant House movement. Just 12 to 18 years old, they are survivors of abuse, exploitation, homelessness, and trafficking.

Word of the fire spread as quickly as the blaze itself, and Covenant House staff who were not on duty on a Sunday night converged on our building from all over the city to assist with the evacuation and to remain with the youth in 12-hour shifts. “The children and youth could see not only the program directors but all the staff who came. It wasn’t their shift, but they came, for them,” said Covenant House Honduras CEO Cándida Sauceda. 

Honduran youth at Covenant House Honduras youth residence

The night of the fire, not one child, youth, or staff person was harmed, but ensuring their safe evacuation was just the beginning. Over the following days, Covenant House Honduras staff attended to myriad details, from identifying an appropriate place to house our young people until they could safely return to our residence, to responding to emergency needs in the moment and calculating a slew of unanticipated costs.

The blaze Sunday night was so intense and threatening, according to local reports, it took 90 firefighters and 20 fire trucks to fight it. While the Covenant House Honduras residence was untouched by the fire itself, the blaze left the internal environment heavy with toxins, grime, and ash. 

We lost all the food in our pantry to the toxic air and all the food in the refrigerators and freezers when electricity was cut for more than 24 hours. All the mattresses and bed linens on the beds where youth sleep were drenched in smoke and must be replaced. 

While professional cleaners performed a deep clean and sanitized the building, staff scrambled around the city to purchase supplies, including food, water, medications, first-aid kits, hygiene kits, sanitary napkins, bed linens, and towels. Because the children and youth left our building with only the clothes on their backs and slippers on their feet, staff also shopped for shoes, pants, shirts, and underwear for all of them.

The night of the fire, a local church took in the young people and accompanying staff and made them as comfortable as possible with mats and blankets. Then staff identified a retreat center that offered cabins, with beds and meals, that they could rent for the next two nights, and moved the youth there. But the center was already booked beyond that, so they will move again today to a third location until it is safe for them to return to our residence.

Through all the upheaval and changes, our Covenant House Honduras staff have remained with the children and youth, encouraging them and playing cards, board games, and sports, and generally lifting their spirits. Our in-house psychologists have been on hand to ensure their stability and peace of mind.

"I believe our past experiences have helped us find our way through this one,” Cándida said. “I loved that our directors all showed up. Maria traveled by night to get here. I appreciate that and value it. She could have stayed in her home. She came with her husband. And, Meliza came with her husband. To see that kind of commitment on the part of our people, it’s above and beyond. The children see that we are really there for them.” 

Covenant House Honduras children and youth will return to our residence as soon as conditions allow. They’re anxious to resume all of their regular programs and services, head back to school, and advance their life goals and plans. 

Your support now will help Covenant House Honduras cover the many unanticipated costs of responding with unconditional love and relentless support to the emergency that disrupted the lives of our young people this week. Please donate here.

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