Coronavirus leaves homeless youths more vulnerable, says Covenant House CEO

Coronavirus leaves homeless youths more vulnerable, says Covenant House CEO

A mother and child are seen at Covenant House in New Orleans April 10, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (Credit: Cheryl Gerber/Covenant House via CNS.)

The already vulnerable homeless community is suddenly even more in need and growing in number as many young people find themselves suddenly unemployed and unable to pay rent, says Covenant House.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Homeless young people have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus.

The already vulnerable community is suddenly even more in need and growing in number as many young people find themselves suddenly unemployed and unable to pay rent, said Kevin Ryan, president and CEO of Covenant House.

The organization, founded under Catholic leadership in 1972, offers food, shelter and employment training programs. It serves about 74,000 youths each year and is currently caring for more than 2,100 in its 31 homes across the country and in Canada and Central America.

“In some cities our numbers have surged,” said Ryan, noting that Covenant House in New Orleans had 160 residents and now has 210. He said the real challenge with the stay-at-home order mandated by most states to curb the coronavirus spread is that it means one thing if you have a home, but it’s hard to know what that means if you don’t.

And some seeking food and shelter have never been in this predicament before, including some who were in college and getting meals on campus. He said there has been a huge increase in the number of meals they are serving.

A young man who recently came to Covenant House in Atlanta had been going from hotel lobby to hotel lobby after losing his job and his apartment.

“It’s terrifying for a lot of young people who never figured this would happen,” Ryan told Catholic News Service April 16.

But in this time of pandemic, it is not just financial troubles these teens and young adults are facing from jobs shutting down around the country.

Many also are suffering with COVID-19 symptoms and not all can be tested, which is another issue. To care for the sick, several Covenant House locations have had to repurpose office rooms or storage space to essentially create sick bays. Each new person who comes to one of the locations has to see the doctor or nurse on site before entering.

On top of that, many of the staff members in some areas, particularly New York and Detroit, have become sick, so they are staying home. In Chicago, so many workers were home the director has been sleeping in the shelter.

One pregnant woman with the coronavirus in a Covenant House shelter recently delivered a healthy baby.

The agency’s leaders try to keep focused amid the constant demands and dwindling resources with weekly phone conferences where they review everything from personal protective equipment inventory to staff morale.

They also meet in another weekly phone conference to pray for the young people who are sick along with workers, volunteers and Covenant House donors. “We try to accompany each other and lift each other up,” Ryan said, noting that everyone will need strength to get through this pandemic whose impact he is sure the world is only just beginning to feel.

But sometimes he finds himself wondering how they will get through this, and in those moments he turns to God and says: “This is your Covenant House; we are the temporary management. You have to help us.”

The top needs right now are food and health equipment. The agency is desperately seeking hospital gowns, plastic gloves and thermometers. To donate, go to covenanthouse.org.

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