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Covenant House: Keeping the Doors Open and the Lights on


“We don’t want kids languishing on the streets...That’s why it’s so important for us to keep our doors open, so they know we’re here to support them during this trying time.”-Sister Nancy Downing  /Covenant House 

By Jim Sliney Jr

New Yorkers are in the midst of sheltering in-place because of the COVID-19 crisis. Many businesses are closed and some City services are disrupted. But homelessness, trauma and loneliness don’t lessen, in fact, trauma, anxiety and loneliness are major elements of the mandated isolation we’re all living with. And they are on the rise.

The young people served by Covenant House are usually disconnected from their families and other social support. Often, they are kids who have endured traumatic and adverse childhood experiences. They may have lived on the streets, while some have survived abusive homes, spent time in juvenile justice facilities, aged out of foster care or have been victims of human trafficking and exploitation.

“We’re dealing with youth who’ve already been traumatized, and this is further traumatizing them,” said Sister Nancy Downing, executive director of Covenant House New York in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “Their fear was that we would close down and leave them.”

Covenant House is continuing to provide the support services to its youth during this time of crisis. What’s different? Not much. While staffing has needed to adjust to meet the ‘new normal,’ those who are on site providing essential work are taking extra steps. The center is well stocked with cleaning supplies and time for readiness and washing up is built into the day to protect everyone.

Covenant House have even set aside rooms where, if a new or existing client needs to come in or shows signs of illness they can be quarantined there. No one is being turned away. But of course, no resource is unlimited; such as food.

The kitchens and pantries at Covenant House are striving to retain at least a two-week supply of food stuffs that can support those who come to them for help, and they’re meeting that goal. This is a challenge of course because the infrastructure of deliveries and food production are not operating as usual. But what helps Covenant House persevere during challenges such as these is forethought and their commitment to those they serve.

The executive director of Covenant House, Sister Nancy Downing told CBS in an interview, “We don’t want kids languishing on the streets, not getting the services they need, feeling hopeless, feeling alone. That’s why it’s so important for us to keep our doors open, so they know we’re here to support them during this trying time.”

The City’s homeless youth don’t have the option to shelter-in-place or self-isolate. They’re accustomed to not knowing where they might sleep or when they’ll have a meal. That is why it’s so important for Covenant House to provide a reliable, stable environment. “As you can imagine,” added Sister Downing, “our youth are pretty scared right now. They’ve been through a lot of trauma already and we’re trying to make sure our young people have the services they need, and to have social workers there to talk to them to make sure that we’re addressing their fears.”

As an agency of Catholic Charities of New York, the mission of Covenant House will continue, as will all the vital services provided by Catholic Charities. Regardless of age, race, religion…regardless of anything except need, Catholic Charities of New York is there for the people of New York.

Catholic Charities is responding to the needs of our neighbors during the 
COVID-19 pandemic.

For Help Call 888-744-7900