Covenant House fills gap for homeless youth

Sid Hastings

Life is looking up for Patience, a 19-year-old originally from Liberia.

She has a place to stay, takes GED classes and works at a grocery store and a restaurant.

Life wasn't always that rosy, however.

She came to the United States with her grandmother 10 years ago, and her mother and nine siblings still live in Liberia. But Patience struggled in school and left high school. She was referred to Covenant House Missouri for GED classes and enrolled.

She began to quarrel with her grandmother and left her home, moving into an apartment with friends. That arrangement didn't last long, however, and she sought shelter at Covenant House Missouri, where she is taking a science class, the last one she needs for her graduate equivalency degree (GED). The only independently-funded youth organization in the state, Covenant House Missouri also helped her obtain her jobs.

If she hadn't found a home in Covenant House, Missouri's transitional living program, Patience said, she probably would be bouncing around from place to place, trying to find a more permanent place to stay and finding it impossible to get a job because of having no permanent address.

Patience plans to take college courses and then enter the U.S. Marine Corps. It's something she's wanted to do for several years.

Covenant House Missouri offers hope and direction for young people who are homeless or disconnected. The majority of the youth who come to Covenant House have experienced abuse, neglect and poverty. Many fled their homes to escape unhealthy and unstable environments.

These young people have the desire to change, but often lack the necessary skills and resources. Covenant House Missouri programs help youth develop character and life skills which allow them to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society.

Patience is saving money and participates in a program in which Covenant House Missouri matches some of her savings. She helped develop the Healing Garden, an outdoor therapy space She's been involved in other volunteer efforts and keeps her living space clean. Covenant House Missouri "is the place you want to be if you don't have a place to stay," she said.

Brad Partridge met Covenant House residents while participating in the Executive Sleep Out for Covenant House, a one-night program in which executives and community leaders give up the comforts of home to sleep outside, showing solidarity with the nearly 2,500 young people in St. Louis who face homelessness each year and raising money for Covenant House Missouri.

According to Partridge, vice president of strategy and decision support for Ascension Health and a parishioner at St. Gerard Majella in Kirkwood, interacting with the youth there before going outside was the best part of the night. He recently was named to the Covenant House Missouri board.

Covenant House Missouri has an open-door policy for the youth who have nowhere to stay. The transitional living program has a college-dorm feel to it as the residents work to become independent, with support. Partridge met a girl whose parents died and lived for a time shuffling between other relatives and on the streets before coming to Covenant House. Now, she is on a path toward a better future.

Good things happen "when resources are available, and there's a desire and determination" to succeed, Partridge said.

A graduate of a formation program for health care executives at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis in partnership with Ascension Health, he felt a calling to share his gifts with a mission-oriented organization. A spiritual director he met through Aquinas told him about Covenant House Missouri and the work it does in the community.

The faith-based, nonprofit agency is rooted in the Catholic tradition. Cardinal Justin F. Rigali, former archbishop of St. Louis, invited Covenant House to begin its programs in St. Louis, and Covenant House Missouri formed in 1998. Its mission statement cites God's unconditional love and how those who serve are a visible sign of God's presence. 

Sleep Out event to benefit Covenant House Missouri

Some 25 St. Louis executives and community leaders headed outside Nov. 19, carrying sleeping bags and cardboard to serve as their beds. They spent the night on an asphalt parking lot, looking up at the Covenant House Missouri building where young people were safe and warm inside.

The Covenant House Missouri Executive Sleep Out raised about $280,000 for Covenant House Missouri and drew attention to the issue of youth homelessness in the St. Louis region and beyond.

"Tonight in St. Louis, young people will be sleeping under a bridge, in an abandoned building or in other dangerous places. But in each case, to help requires us to see them as they are," said Tim Wentworth, president and CEO-elect of Express Scripts who served as Executive Sleep Out honorary co-chair. He and his wife took part in the event.

Similar events were held in 14 cities, giving business leaders across the United States the opportunity to raise awareness and funds for youth who are homeless.

For many youth, the family environment in which they were living was scarier and more threatening for them than life on the street. Many are forced to flee their homes to escape abuse, neglect, untreated mental illness and substance abuse issues within their families.

Covenant House Missouri empowers youth to design paths to independence. Without help, these homeless teens are likely to become involved in illegal activity, drugs and prostitution. Some even face an early, tragic death.

Covenant House Missouri is the only nonprofit organization dedicating 100 percent of resources to homeless, runaway and at-risk youth not in the foster-care system. Eighty-five percent of the youth served by Covenant House Missouri move into safe and stable living environments through education and job-skills training combined with mental health services and individualized plans.

For more information or to donate to Covenant House, visit

To view a video about Covenant House, visit 

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