#CHSleepOut #CovenantHouse #NYC
Alana Weinroth is patient but persistent with the emails. I met her at Covenant House, the homeless youth agency where I took part in a one-night volunteer mission. Recruited by my friend Judy Tepperberg for TAO Cares, I was there to pitch in for the Mother & Child program supporting homeless young mothers and their children. I told Development Manager Alana that I could be interested “sleeping out” for homeless youth, and was subsequently invited to a “Moms’ Night Out” recruiting event. After attending, but not fully committing to participate, I kept hearing from Alana.
I’ve since learned that Alana Weinroth left a “cushy” job in Finance to work at Covenant House. She always knew homeless youth existed, but they never “had a face” until a coworker recruited her to do the Young Professionals Sleep Out. That was a life-changing experience that motivated her to join Covenant House’s Associate Board. When her old company got acquired, she followed her heart to go into the profession that had become her passion.
Covenant House is 80% privately funded, working every day to help homeless 16-to-20-year-olds by providing crisis shelters, long-term residential programs, mother/child programs and an array of services in neighborhoods across the United States, Mexico, Central America and Canada.
It’s Alana’s job to keep the lights on and the doors open for homeless kids who have run out of choices — kids who might otherwise sleep in dirty dumpsters, abandoned buildings or the subway, praying they can get through the night without getting hurt. She works to secure the support needed to keep Covenant House running, to connect people with the mission there and allow amazing stories to inspire them. In her mission to give homeless youth a face, she tells me about a boy named Quincy.
The Face of Homeless Youth
Quincy came to Covenant House NYC in May of 2013, after his mother was incarcerated and his grandmother passed away, leaving him homeless with no place to go during his senior year of high school. He took advantage of Covenant House’s job readiness program and entered their Rights of Passage, where their staff helped him find a job. He then decided to apply to colleges to pursue higher education. He was awarded a 4-year full-time scholarship to College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx, where he is currently studying education. He hopes to one day become the principle of a school.
Quincy still comes back to Covenant House to speak to their youth and inspire them. Alana’s life is no longer cushy, but that’s more than made up for by the “incredible sense of fulfillment and happiness” that she goes to sleep with every night.
Of the many cultural, societal and economic issues that contribute to youth homelessness, there are two that surprised Alana. It is “mind-boggling” to her that 30% of Covenant House youth identify as LGBT, and many have been kicked out of their homes because of their sexual preferences or gender identity. In addition, 25% of Covenant House youth are victims of sex trafficking, something that “a lot of people think doesn’t happen in New York.”
From Finance to the Field
In the face of harsh realities, Alana would rather get motivated than get discouraged.
“When I started working at Covenant House,” she tells me, “spending so much time with these kids and getting to know them as individuals before even knowing how they got here, it made me realize just how unfair it is that they are in these situations.”
Youth homelessness robs our communities of the talent and energy of the young people Alana is honored to serve. “The least interesting thing about our kids is their homelessness,” she says. “They are talented, they are smart, they are beautiful, they are incredibly resilient.”
If Alana can continue to raise awareness through their Sleep Outs and events, if she can get more people connected to Covenant House and supporting their work, then they can continue adding beds and they won’t have to turn away the 50-100 kids a month they do now. If they can improve and expand on their education services, their job readiness program, and their vocational services, they will be better able to ensure that their youth are self-sufficient when they leave.
Of the challenges connected to dealing with homeless youth, one of the greatest is trust. These kids have been through a lot. They have been let down their whole lives, and may lack the ability to be open and take advantage of all the resources Covenant House offers.
“We are lucky enough to have an incredible staff of people who work with the youth, such as case workers, social workers and counselors who can help our kids feel safe, respected and loved.”
Establishing trust is a priority, and it’s not always easy.
“Some kids find Covenant House and they are ready to turn their lives around and utilize all the resources we have here for them,” says Alana. “And some come so that they can stop running and just have a warm bed to sleep in.”
The work of committed professionals is vital to this effort. “Trust,” Alana tells me, “is definitely something that is earned with our youth.”
I’m Sleeping Out
Trusting Alana’s relentlessly zealous goodwill, I finally registered for Moms Sleep Out. On April 29th, I’ll be sleeping on a piece of cardboard outside, sponsored by many supportive friends and family members.
In addition to sponsoring my Sleep Out, there are many ways you can to help Alana provide the open doors, beds, lights, meals, programs and staff needed to create trust and choices for the faceless young person who might have been trafficked or slept in the dumpster.
Alana takes her job seriously, and IMHO, she’s great at it. I wonder what she might do if she ever moves on from Covenant House. Might life be “cushy” once again? Am I kidding? She’s not going anywhere if it’s up to her.
“They’re going to have to carry me out,” the unshakable Alana answers, “kicking and screaming.”
If you've already supported my Sleep Out, thank you! If not, please do. This photo is me and my sixteen-year-old son, Kyle. I’m trying to imagine Kyle sleeping in an abandoned building or a dumpster or the subway. I’m dedicating myself to sleep out so that fewer kids like him have to.