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Philadelphia’s homeless youth need our help

A closer look at the homeless youth in Philadelphia from Covenant House Pennsylvania.

Today's guest blogger is John Ducoff, Executive Director of Covenant House Pennsylvania.

As you may have seen, a local investigative report about youth homelessness in Philadelphia was released this fall. The report features courageous homeless young people, many of whom had nowhere else to turn and eventually found their way to Covenant House Pennsylvania. These are just some of the remarkable youth – kids, truly – who I have the privilege to engage with every day, young individuals who seize opportunities and stare down homelessness with grit and determination.

In Philadelphia, one study reported almost 4,000 high school students who have experienced homelessness. At Covenant House Pennsylvania, more than 500 adolescents walk through our doors every year looking for a place to stay. The youth who come to Covenant House Pennsylvania have no other place to go. Many are young mothers with children. Some are victims of human trafficking, an all-too-common affront to humanity in our city. From a young person who has aged out of foster care to a college student with no place to call home when the semester ends, we accept them.

We also serve many LGBTQ youth who are desperately seeking a supportive environment. We give these youth a place to stay. We educate, advocate, and heal. Our personalized services aim to help them get back into school and teach them the fundamentals needed to work toward a career and, ultimately, independence. We believe every teenager deserves a home, a family, and a future.

Unfortunately, finding services appropriate for youth is no easy task. In fact, Covenant House Pennsylvania's crisis center in Germantown, which has only 51 beds, is the sole emergency shelter exclusively serving youth 18-21 in the City of Philadelphia. That's why, even though we will provide safe shelter for more than 500 young people this year, we will turn away another 400 –  200 of those young mothers with babies.

We need to stand together as a community to help these kids transform their lives. If we step up now, we're choosing to create the next generation of entrepreneurs, artists, lawyers, nurses, and social workers. If we don't, we're choosing to create the next generation of chronically homeless adults.

Recently, we held our annual Sleep Out: Executive Edition where local business leaders, including Scott O'Neil from the Philadelphia 76ers and Chris Gaffney from Toll Brothers, came together to sleep outside to raise money and awareness for homeless youth. They were provided with a sleeping bag, cardboard box, and a spot on the pavement, while our youth inspired them with their stories of transformation and success. This year, we broke a record and raised more than $275,000 to help homeless youth in Philadelphia.

What can you do to help? Covenant House Pennsylvania is supported almost entirely – more than 99 percent, to be precise – by private donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. We need funding to keep these kids off the streets. In addition to monetary donations, we're always looking for volunteers – teachers, mentors, coaches, supporters, and allies – who can help our kids land their next job or earn their high school diploma. With your help, we can build a bridge from homelessness to hope.

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