"Am I Cut Out?": The Realities of Philadelphia's Youth Homelessness
“A homeless teen isn’t what you probably think a homeless teen looks like,”John Ducoff, the Executive Director of Covenant House Pennsylvania, explains.“Teens and kids care too much about keeping up with appearances and how they’re perceived. For that reason, they remain an invisible community, and our mission is to bring them out of the shadows.”
Covenant House, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that is actually a taskforce amalgamate of thirty houses providing transitional housing and shelter for cities in The United States (including Alaska), Canada, and the Latin American countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, brings hope and aid beyond a safe and warm place to spend a night. Services extended to over the 2 million homeless youth in our nation (about 40% of the homeless population is actually made up of those who are 22 years or younger), include street outreach, prevention and community education, anti-trafficking coalitions, drop-in centers, crisis centers, life skills classes, savings deposits, community service trips, health clinics, educational and vocational assessments, trauma-informed therapy, and pastoral ministry, to name a few.
Luckily, for those young folks in Philadelphia that are at risk of ending up on the streets or succumbing to the consequences of homelessness, Covenant House has had a place in our city since 1999. Based in 31st East Armat Street, Covenant House has generously devoted its resources to maintaining a “positive youth development model” for over 2,500 folks under the age of 22 in Philadelphia. Ducoff attests that, not only are the staff and volunteers at Covenant House dedicated to finding these persons in-danger, getting them off the streets and feeding them, they are also committed to the mission of fostering meaningful relationships and becoming a surrogate family so that these youth can transform their lives and not fall-into the cycles of poverty and homelessness again.
However, Ducoff laments that, while Covenant House PA has done so much for our community, it has far more to do for the city’s most vulnerable youth. Last year, the House had to turn away 546 minors due to lack of resources and beds, a staggering statistic that inspired an impactful pop-up art exhibit in October titled “Am I Cut Out?.” With the partnership and vision of blogger and street artist Conrad Benner, the exhibit called attention to the issue of Philadelphia’s youth homelessness at Dilworth Park (otherwise known as the foot of City Hall), which provoked the attendance of several Philadelphia Councilmen and Councilwomen. But, although the people that walked by the exhibit were engaged by the haunting display and social media reception made #AmICutOut? trend, Ducoff assures that the imperative need to raise awareness, funding, and governmental support does not stop there.
“This is a call to action for the entire Philadelphia community, but particularly for groups, foundations, congregations, and government officials that can make strides to help and support the future of our city. We also want to raise awareness to local teachers and to local social entrepreneurs. None of these homeless children and teens should be excluded from a safe space, and referring them to the adult shelter system is not the way to keep them secure. We want these youth to become and to feel empowered.”
The next community event to increase empathy and understanding about youth homelessness is “Sleep Out,” which will put CEO’s and big-time money-makers in the shoes (or, more appropriately, in the sleeping bags) of homeless youth. The slogan of the event is “Sleep on the street for one night so homeless youth don’t have to,” and Philadelphia’s most prominent companies and organizations pledge funds through their participation to reach the target goal of $300,000 for CHPA.
The event is on November 17th, 2016, and includes face-time between the participants and the youth that live in Covenant House’s residential center.
For more information on how you can fundraise for Covenant House, please click here.