Kevin Ryan (right), president of Covenant House, speaks with Covenant House residents in this undated photo. Photo courtesy of Covenant House

Hope for homeless youth

By  Caroline D’Souza, Youth Speak News
  • December 21, 2012

Family abuse, prostitution, teen parenthood, rejection because of sexual orientation and aging out of foster care without family — these are just a few reasons why 1.6 million young people are homeless in North America.

Revolving around the true stories of six remarkable young people from across North America, Almost Home offers a peek into the lives of some of these homeless youth. They are six of the 56,000 youth that end up in Covenant House, a Catholic organization that helps street kids reach their full potential.

Kevin Ryan, president of Covenant House International, and former New York Times staff writer Tina Kelley authored the book and begin each chapter with the heartbreaking stories of homeless youth — Paulie, Muriel, Benjamin, Creionna, Keith and Meagan — providing real-life situations of “homelessness to hope.” From the moving story of 13-year-old Paulie, the drug-addicted son of a physically abusive crack addict who fights his descent into drug addiction, to 17-year-old Crieonna, a Hurricane Katrina refugee and an abandoned teen mother who felt the need to hide her pregnancy from her damaged family members for five months, Almost Home keeps readers in a state of awe.

Struggling to find a place to call home, all six youth eventually find their way to Covenant House, the largest charity serving homeless, trafficked and runaway youth in North America.

The message of Covenant House to youth is: “Even if you can’t go home because your parents are missing or dead or abusive or in a jail or hate you, you are still valuable and special and deserve a safe shelter. You still have the right to a future. We open our doors, and we promise safety,” writes Ryan.

Despite all the heartbreaking stories, Kelley reminds readers that “the parents, too, are God’s children, God’s broken children, but full of their own dreams, regrets, missteps and humanity as well.”

Covenant House promises “absolute respect and unconditional love” to all who make the difficult decision to “settle” for a homeless shelter, even for people like Meagan, a girl who was kicked out by her grandmother for being gay.

Ryan and Kelley hit readers with disturbing claims, such as, “Each year, an estimated 240,000 to 400,000 LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning) minors become homeless. Compared to straight homeless youth, they are more likely to be robbed or assaulted and three times as likely to be sexually assaulted or raped.”

Not only does the book evoke a sense of compassion, it also provides some solutions to the homeless youth crisis facing society. A chapter deals specifically with “Steps to help Homeless Young People Thrive.” Mentoring, anti-trafficking efforts and supporting gay youth and advocacy work are some of the ideas mentioned in the book to help homeless youth “find a brighter future.”

Covenant House workers have one main goal: “To love kids the world too often calls unlovable,” writes Ryan.

(D’Souza, 15, is a Grade 11 International Baccalaureate student at Blessed Pope John Paul II in Toronto.)


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