On March 20, 2015– with several inches of snow and slush on the ground–  54 young professionals slept outside in cardboard boxes wrapped in trash bags to raise support for homeless youth. These men and women participated in the Covenant House Sleep Out to End Youth Homelessness, and have raised $67,000 to date. It was a simple, yet incredibly powerful statement to let runaway, abandoned and trafficked youth in Philadelphia, Atlantic City and Camden know that someone cares about them.

A young professional spends the night in a cardboard box to raise support for homeless youth.

A young professional spends the night in a cardboard box to raise support for homeless youth.

When you think of a homeless person, what comes to your mind? Do you picture a crusty, dirty old man, strung out on drugs and holding a cardboard sign? Do you imagine a woman huddled under a filthy blanket on a park bench, with all of her worldly possessions packed into a few plastic bags? Or what about the guy begging for change at the intersection during rush hour?

I bet you don’t think of Shawn*– a bright, gifted young man that plays saxophone, trumpet and drums and has a penchant for three piece suits. He is currently homeless because– like 30% of the residents at The Covenant House– he ran away from an abusive foster home and found himself sleeping upright in casino bathroom stalls and kicking in the doors of abandoned apartments after the $300 he had in his pocket ran out. His dream is to be a professional musician.

You probably don’t think of Mary– who was illiterate at age 18 and suffered horrendous sexual and emotional abuse her entire childhood. She is now a Princeton graduate (and only a few credit hours away from earning her PhD.) and an instructor at the Covenant House Atlantic City. Her life is consumed with teaching, inspiring, loving, and instilling hope in kids who have experienced the same hurt, rejection and loss that she did.

Imagine the opposite of a normal childhood, and that’s probably close to what many of these kids have experienced. Can you imagine a father showing his 10 year old son how to shoot heroin? Or a mother telling her 12 year old daughter that she’ll never be worth anything, and that she has to have sex every day for money just to help pay the rent?

These stories aren’t made up– they’re real. These are the heartbreaking and traumatic stories of kids that have been hurt, abused, and abandoned by the very people that were supposed to protect them from pain– the kids that have been ‘thrown away’. They survive by “house-hopping” and “couch-surfing”, many still managing to make it to school on a regular basis. They lie, cheat and steal to feed themselves because it is– in a very literal sense– life or death.

Fifty four young professionals participated in this year's Sleep Out to End Youth Homelessness at Covenant House PA.

Fifty four young professionals participated in this year’s Sleep Out to End Youth Homelessness at Covenant House PA.

For those that find their way to Covenant House, they’re greeted with a smile, a hot meal, a warm bed, structure, and an unlimited supply of unconditional love and support. Covenant House was founded in 1972 with the simple, profound mission to help homeless kids escape the streets. Today they are the largest privately funded charity in the Americas providing loving care and vital services to homeless, abandoned, abused, trafficked, and exploited youth.

The heart of their mission is to provide the one thing that these kids crave — family. Their mission statement calls them to serve with unconditional love and absolute respect. Unconditional love — the love of a parent for a child, a brother for a sister. And absolute respect — respect for what they’ve been through, who they are, and for the potential that they all have if it’s expected of them. For too many of these kids, Covenant House is the first real family they ever know. 

In order to break the cycle of chronic adult homelessness and bridge the gap of support in the lives of homeless youth, Covenant House has developed three core services known as their Continuum of Care– Street Outreach, Crisis Care, and Rights of Passage. These core services are comprised of a wide array of in-house training programs, including healthcare, educational support, GED preparation, job readiness and skills training, drug abuse treatment and prevention, legal services, mental health services, the Mother/Child program, life skills training, and aftercare. These programs are designed to provide our youth with a holistic approach to leaving the streets and achieving independence.

* Name has been changed to ensure the protection and privacy of our most vulnerable youth.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

1. Make a micro-donation. You may have missed the sleep out, but it’s not too late to make a difference! Click here to make a donation to this campaign through May 1, 2015 (every $1 or $5 donation makes a huge difference!).

2. Volunteer. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit Covenant House PA.

3. Share this story with your circle. Just talking about what organizations like Covenant House are doing to make a difference in the community goes a long way in increasing awareness and getting more people involved.

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