Covenant House Pennsylvania is a program for young people in desperate situations age 21 and under. Our goal is to help homeless young people become healthy, happy, responsible, productive, and ultimately independent adults.
Covenant House Pennsylvania is a program of transformative change, an opportunity to move forward, often from lives of trauma and neglect. From the very first moment, we approach our young people with unconditional respect and support. We strive never to turn anyone away.
When they enter our 76-bed shelter, we do not bombard a young person, many of whom have arrived after a traumatic experience, with forms to fill out. We simply respond to their immediate needs. First, we ask them if they would like something to eat (three meals daily are available every day of the year from our onsite cafeteria) and whether they need to see a doctor or nurse, or if they need clothes or personal hygiene items.
Living on the streets or in unstable housing can negatively affect a young person's health – both in the short and long term. So, within their first week with us, a young person receives a full health screening at our onsite clinic (partnered with CHOP and funded by the IBX Foundation and the Green Tree Community Health Foundation). The clinic has a full team of experienced staff that includes a pediatrician, psychiatrist, drug and alcohol counselor, nurse practitioners, and a health educator. Here, youth find the physical, psychological, and emotional support they need to begin to build themselves up.
During the first few days at Covenant House youth go through Orientation. This includes an Orientation presentation, held every Monday in the Cafeteria. We inform residents what they can expect from us (and, in turn, what we will expect from them). Five principles underpin our work: Immediacy, Sanctuary, Structure, Value Communication, and Choice. These are defined in a Residents Handbook, which outlines house rules, and which the young person reviews and is then required to sign. Rules include good behavior – showing respect to others – and keeping faith with a Goal Plan (which they develop with the help of a designated advisor). An important thread running through our support and which is clearly stated in the Handbook is “We will help you as long as you are willing to help yourself”.
As part of their Goal Plan, youth then complete education and vocation assessments with the support of in-house specialists. After this, youth are expected to complete our CHOICES program (Covenant House Orientation in Career Enhancement Skills). There are four CHOICES sessions: Career Skills Orientation; Job Search Workshop; Resume Workshop; and an Interview Workshop. Then, before interviews youth select appropriate dress from our Success Boutique. We give them travel tokens for the bus, and they are on their way to their interview and – we hope – a job.
For those that complete our 3-month program – and some return to CHPA to try many times (we understand that coming from lives lacking in structure they may need to become accustomed to following rules and setting goals, and so we welcome our young people as many times as it takes for them to succeed) – we offer Rights of Passage. This 20-bed program run by 6 staff in Kensington is for working youth. Here, we offer longer-term housing and support. A youth pays us rent which we return when they complete the program so they can use it as a downpayment for their own apartment. We teach them budgeting, life skills, and responsibility. We help them move on.
These supportive services combine to create one vital thing: a program of positive transformation for homeless young people in our community.