Covenant House has been coming to the aid of homeless and at-risk teens for 45 years, but if this is the first time you’re hearing about them, get ready to see the impact of their work take hold in our city. The organization only opened up an Illinois chapter a little over a year ago, and they have definitely hit the ground running.
Because Covenant House has only been up and running in Chicago for a little over a year, almost everything they do is a first-time situation. Luckily, says Amy Sings In The Timber, the director of development and communications, they have a lot of support from their partners: Covenant House is already operating in 31 cities and six countries. Since the charity’s inception, it has helped more than 1 million boys and girls escape the cycle of homelessness. But because the Chicago chapter is so new, it is especially crucial to get the word out quickly so that the organization can grow as fast as possible.
“We really want people to know that the mission of Covenant House is here and we’re working to make an impact on the lives of young Chicagoans,” says Christopher Montiel, the development & communications manager.
And the kids that Covenant House is serving truly have a lot to overcome. Over the past 45 years, the organization has helped homeless, trafficked, and runaway youth access services for mental and physical health, addiction treatment, workforce support, legal help, and more. Right now, the organization offers drop-in services for Illinois youth.
“We very much intend to expand program services to a residential facility,” Sings In The Timber says. “The idea is to raise visibility and awareness for the need for expanded residential services for youth in the city of Chicago and to kick off those development and partnership efforts.”
Of course, awareness isn’t everything. Covenant House organizers would like to raise $2,500,000 over the course of this year, which will be no small feat. But the budget is going to need to double if Covenant House plans to expand to those residential services, so the goals need to be lofty.
“Right now we’re a daytime drop-in center, but that’s only the beginning,” says Montiel. “We’re in this initial phase and we’re providing the immediate resources … but really our goal is to have a residential component where we are serving youth 24 hours a day, with not only immediate needs services, but a source of stability and structure.”
The Chicago branch of the organization is also prepping for one of its largest events, Sleep Out, that is held yearly across the country. The Sleep Out movement started 11 years ago, and it involves a peer-to-peer method of fundraising, where participants ask their network to sponsor them for a night of sleeping outdoors — in November.
“It’s not about recreating an experience or pretending to be homeless,” Montiel says. “It’s about showing solidarity with homeless and at-risk youth; we’re willing to make ourselves uncomfortable for one night so that one day they won’t have to.”
Participants are armed with a cardboard box and a sleeping bag, and then sent out of doors. In the morning, there’s a short period for reflection, a small breakfast, and then most people go to work, Montiel says.
“It allows [participants] to empathize with what our youth go through on a daily basis,” Montiel says. “They spend the night outside, they have a light meal, and then they go to work. It’s another way for deeper engagement, a different perspective of what homelessness is.”
Covenant House Illinois hopes it can have residential services up and running in the immediate future, keeping the doors open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the youth of Illinois.
“They could really for the first time have continuity and be able to stabilize and really work for the first time towards achieving their goals without having to bounce from an overnight shelter to a daytime services program or not have anywhere to go in between,” Sings In The Timber says. “It would mean they have a home.”
Jessica Suss is a native Chicagoan residing in Washington, D.C. She is currently getting her master’s degree in secondary English education at the University of Maryland. She enjoys petting other people’s dogs and is faithful to Lou Malnati’s alone. Jessica is also a supporter of MAZON and No Kid Hungry.