I don’t spend much time looking back. I’m a firm believer in accepting our past, learning from it, and forging a new path ahead, even when the terrain is rough and unclear.
But, even as I write this, I am taking a quick peek back at my first year as president and chief executive officer of Covenant House International because I am proud of where we are today, and where this organization is going. At 6’5” tall, I was already tall, and after this year, I’m standing even taller. Why?
Because we have a way forward to end youth homelessness as we know it today. I want to repeat that. We have a path forward to end youth homelessness.
And it starts with each and every one of us emulating the courage, spirit, and determination that the young people overcoming homelessness at Covenant House show us every day.
Don’t get me wrong. I know it’s a complicated issue. I’ve spent my entire adult life working towards the day when young people do not have to live on our streets or other people’s couches to survive.
The path forward includes getting upstream and investing greater focus on the root causes of youth homelessness, and its’ prevention; it includes ensuring that young people receive the most effective, evidence and data informed practices when they are with us; and it requires that we ensure young people have the ongoing support and stable housing options they need, when they are ready to transition to independence.
But it really comes down to this: Do we have the will, the courage, the spirit, and the determination of our young people to end this crisis once and for all?
We reached nearly 58,000 young people last year. All of them on different journeys across five countries. Young people, who today are waking up early, going to school, or to work (and often both school and work in the same day), and striving to achieve their goals and their dreams.
These are young people who could have easily given up, thrown up their hands, citing (justifiably) the absolute unfairness of the world and the circumstances that led them to bravely seek support at Covenant House.
But instead, listen to their voices.
Listen to Kevin in Alaska:
“My life has changed so much since I came to Covenant House. I’ve learned responsibility and professionalism, and how to manage my bank account properly. And I now have goals and plans for my life. My goals after I earn my high school diploma are enlisting into the United States Marine Corps, and possibly becoming a police officer after my time in the military.”
Listen to Derrick, once a Covenant House resident facing homelessness himself, now a housing manager in our new Covenant House apartment complex in California who is ensuring that the path he walked is smoother for those who follow.
“Everything Covenant House provided -- 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. 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. 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.”
Listen to Janice in New York, now a first responder as an EMT technician, recalling how our staff welcomed her when she arrived at Covenant House.
“The first thing they said when I first came in was ‘are you hungry?’ ‘Do you need clothes?’ ‘Do you need to wash your clothes?’ They didn't ask ‘why are you here?’ or ‘what happened?’ You think you'll only get a bed and some food, but instead I got a bunch of opportunities. And becoming an EMT is just the first step.”
Listen to Ana in Guatemala who was abandoned by her father as an infant and was left in the care of relatives when her mother came to the U.S. She grew up living in extreme poverty and she experienced constant verbal, emotional, and physical violence. She shared, “At Covenant House Guatemala I learned I have rights. I won’t quit.”
Our young people are fighting so hard, not only for themselves, but to help other young people, and to make the world a better place. Like me, they fight so that homelessness is rare, brief, and nonrecurring for young people their age. “I want to share my story so that other kids know there is a way out of being homeless” is something I hear every day from young people at Covenant House.
This is an election year. We have a great opportunity to shine a light on the completely unacceptable fact that in the U.S. alone, 4.2 million young people will experience a form of homelessness this year. We cannot let our leaders push this problem down the road to the next generation. The time is now.
We don’t need to accept this. We can change this, but we can’t do it alone. We need partners and supporters to help us build and amplify urgently needed solutions to the youth homelessness crisis.
It will take all of us.
At Covenant House, we have the incredible privilege to not only believe our young people, but believe in them and we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure our society knows that there is a place for them - in safe homes, in our workforce, and in our communities. We can end youth homelessness by following our moral obligation to provide the same rights to all of our young people.
I’m asking you today to join us, whether it is financially, or through volunteering, or raising hell with your local politicians to put the issue of youth homelessness on their agendas, and in their hearts.
Together, we need to put forth our best effort. God knows our kids at Covenant House are doing it every day.
Shelter Is Only the Beginning
From crisis to care: Find out what it's like when a young person enters our doors.