Part of the Get to Know Your Local Community Organization Series
For many Bay Area students and their families, spring brings the joy and angst that inevitably accompanies graduation season. It is a time of profound contradictions. Parents rejoice in the boundless possibilities the future holds for their young people, while indulging in a last-minute self-induced panic attack (Do they have enough credits to graduate? Have they been accepted to the educational institution of their choice … or, at least, an acceptable alternative? Did we adequately fund their 529? Given the job market, will we be able to remodel their vacant space into a new media room?). And then, after the caps and gowns are returned, we tell them we are proud of them, we love them and will always be there for them.
But who will “be there” for those who are not so fortunate? For an estimated 10,000 youth living on Bay Area streets, graduation season will pass unnoticed. For many of these homeless youth, the only rite of passage is to have escaped physical or sexual abuse, to have been discarded by their family or unceremoniously “aged out” of a broken foster care system. Every day, they must set aside their hopes and aspirations to focus on surviving another night on the street without shelter, food or safety. This is the population served by Covenant House California (CHC).
On the Waterfront
Unexpectedly located at the intersection of Harrison and Second streets, within Jack London Square’s Produce and Waterfront neighborhood, Covenant House occupies a large, industrial-looking building, an unremarkable structure where remarkable things happen. For more than 25 years, Covenant House has served at-risk youth living on California streets, without judgment or proselytizing. In addition to providing the immediate necessities of food, shelter, clothing and safety, CHC instills a sense of dignity and hope in young people often healing from abuse and deprivation.
Covenant House California opens its doors 24 hours a day, offering essential services, resources and support to homeless clients aged 18 to 24. These are young people who found themselves on the street as a result of abuse, trafficking, family dysfunction, economic hardship or “aging out” of foster care. According to CHC, in Alameda County, 50 percent of all foster care youth emancipating at age 18 will experience homelessness within six months.
A 2006 select committee hearing of the California Legislature reported 70 percent of state prison inmates have spent time in foster care. While on the streets, these young people are at greater risk for physical abuse (more than half of CHC clients report being victims of violence while homeless), sexual exploitation, mental health problems, substance abuse and death. Indeed, it has been estimated that 5,000 homeless youth die each year in the United States as a result of assault, illness or suicide. (National Conference of State Legislatures).
Programs and Services
CHC provides comprehensive, free services (food, clothing, shelter, individualized case management, life-skills training, education and employment programs, medical and mental health services, and recreational activities) at two campuses in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
CHC’s residential program is a three-level system beginning with immediate care, which leads to transitional housing and, eventually, self-sufficient independent living:
Level 1: Immediate needs
Homeless youth initially enter CHC’s Crisis Shelter, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In the Crisis Shelter, youth are provided with a safe and secure environment with healthy food, clean clothing and access to support services.
Level 2: Transitional living
CHC’s transitional living program, Rights of Passage (ROP), teaches basic skills for independent living such as financial literacy and job preparedness. Residents in ROP are required to be enrolled in school full-time or have stable employment.
Level 3: Supportive Apartments Program
Through this program, currently available only at the Los Angeles campus, youth begin to live independently in off-site CHC apartments. Although the residents have greater autonomy and responsibility, CHC still provides a safety net, guidance and support.
CHC’s most revered attribute is its commitment to provide hope and opportunity to young people who have become accustomed to living day to day, hungry and homeless. However, hope costs. With more than 80 percent of its funding coming from private donations, CHC struggles to keep its doors open.
CHC’s Oakland location is all too familiar with the challenge of providing a wide range of services in a climate of diminishing financial support. Nevertheless, CHC still manages to transform adversity into success for thousands of homeless young people, graduating them with a renewed hope for the bright futures they deserve.
So, in the midst of graduation season, we should take the time to recognize and commend Covenant House California for their caring efforts while we reflect on the futures of all our youth, whose fates are sometimes separated merely by an accident of birth.
Contact Information:Covenant House California – Bay Area program 200 Harrison St. Oakland, CA 94607 Tel: (510) 379-1010 www.covenanthousecalifornia.org
Want to Help?
Contact Jill Battalen, Associate Development Officer (Oakland) at (510) 379-1010
About the Author: Colin T. Bowen is a criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of Colin T. Bowen in Emeryville. This article originally ran in the Fall edition of the ACBA Trial Practice Section Newsletter.