Why NYC’s Covenant House Is Keeping Their Doors Open for the City’s Homeless Youth, Despite COVID-19 Dangers

Tags: Currents Brooklyn, NY, Faith, Family, Homeless, Queens, NY

By Emily Drooby

It’s an unfortunate reality. On any given night in New York City around 4,600 kids and young adults are homeless.

Some are running from danger, while others just have no one to turn to.

Many find their way to shelters and nonprofits like Covenant House – finally feeling some safety and stability.

Then the pandemic hit and many were terrified that lifeline would disappear.

Sister Nancy Downing, the Executive Director of Covenant House New York, says that’s exactly why they didn’t close down. The nonprofit is under Catholic Charities and helps to house and support homeless youth.

“He said well we thought you would close down and we would have no place to go. That’s the expectation, our young people don’t expect the adults in their lives to be there for them and so it’s really important that we are there for them,” said Downing.

They have made some major changes to their operations – creating quarantine rooms for the sick, screening newcomers for the virus, wearing masks, and reconfiguring their shelters to limit contact inside.

“And then once a week they go out and bring them groceries and other supplies, because many of our young people have lost their jobs because of the virus,” said Downing.

Despite all of the safety precautions, COVID-19 still made it through the doors – 10 kids got sick, and 7 of them have recovered.

“Some of us are going to get sick – we know that. We have had some staff who have gotten sick,” said Downing.

Shakeema North was one of the staff members that did get sick.

Like many, she was unable to get tested but she did have coronavirus symptoms. She went back to work at Covenant House as soon as her self-quarantine ended.

She knows what could happen if the shelter isn’t open.

“You would have young people trying to ‘make it work’ in homes that weren’t safe,” said North.

According to city data – 34% of kids are homeless because of abuse or frequent fights with a parent.

The United Nations reports that domestic violence is soaring because of the pandemic. Jobs are gone, routines are messed up, kids are stuck home and isolated from others – the perfect storm.

So, for Covenant House, the risk and the changes needed to keep operating, are worth it.

“You would have young people back on the streets, right? So, finding a bench or a park, which would even be limited because the parks were even closed. Or sleeping on the subway. So, some of those places, they come from, when they come to us,” said North.

“For me the work that I do here is a mission. It’s not a job, it’s not a career,” said Downing.

Support is also important, donations are being accepted online and last Friday they held their annual sleep out event – a major fundraiser – virtually.

Anyone in immediate need of help can go to their shelter at 550 10th avenue, or you can reach out through their website.