Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Covenant House Sleep Out, and a few thoughts on charity

Let me start off by saying that I don't ever do any charity-related thing so people will tell me "that's great/you're awesome." It's nice to hear, sure. But that's not why I do it. Since the dawn of social media there are people out there who say they do good deeds all the time and don't share anything about them because they're not doing it for recognition, implying that the person who posts about good deeds *is* doing it for recognition. I call bullshit. I want people to talk MORE about the good they're doing, and to talk about it with a full heart that spills over onto other people. When I participate in a charity's big event, I post about my experience on social media because
a) I'm passionate about causes I believe in and I want to spread awareness
b) I want people to know this charity exists and the good it brings to the world
c) I want people to donate or support the charity with non-monetary donations in kind if they are so moved to

I hope you're out there stumping for your pet causes too. We don't think twice about sharing a photo of dinner or a gym check in, but we consider refraining from charity posts because we might seem braggy? Don't even. If you're posting about charity for altruistic reasons like normal, good human beings, please keep posting about these worthy organizations and the important work they're doing.  If you're posting about charity work to pat yourself on the back or act like you're better than others, you're going to get a hot poker shoved straight up your ass by karma. Your motives are up to you to work out.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program: the Covenant House Sleep Out.

Friday night we arrived at Covenant House at 7 for a Sleep Out. We were voluntarily going to sleep outside for a night to raise awareness and money for homeless teens. We were handed papers that had half hour workshops on them. I was tired from a long week. Irritated. Hot in the building. Listening to the staff and the over 18 kids at Covenant House speak about what their lives were like snapped me out of my petty grievances pretty quickly.

One of the things that struck me was how they describe life on the street as your body either being in a constant state of flight or a constant state of fight. The adrenaline that is not a rush but a consistent flow. After one night of sleeping outside - in a contained parking lot with a cop in front of it, with cardboard for shelter and a warm sleeping bag, which is more than these kids have on the street - I really cannot imagine how they go through their days. And yet that's exactly what they do - they get up, they make themselves presentable, they go to school, they hold down jobs...all while trying to figure out where to sleep that night. And with adrenaline that never stops rushing through their system. I don't know about you, but I feel ill after adrenaline bursts. What if I felt that all the time?

These are not the homeless people most of us see in our minds - dirty, smelly, incoherent, mentally ill or on drugs or drunk. These are kids that were forced out by circumstance or because their parents changed the locks and told them they had no more homes. They are kids that do their best to hide in plain sight and not be fingered as homeless.

After sleeping out one night, all day Saturday I was off of my game. My brain was fuzzy. My heart was racing. This is meant to mimic how there is no sound sleep on the street - every steetlight, every car that goes by, every loud own subconscious let me know I was exposed all night, even though I was surrounded by 40 other people, a fence, and a cop. What is it like for people who don't have those safeguards? Not too fucking good.

These are the kids we all point at for wanting a hand out. We wonder why they can't stand on their own at 18, 19, do we expect them to when no one taught them the skills to survive in normal life? And surprise! Not one of these kids that I heard talk on Friday night wants to live off of the system. In fact, even after all they've been through, they want jobs and positions that will enable them to HELP OTHERS in their community. THEY were worried about US sleeping outside for ONE night. The difference between a life of crime and depravity on the streets and a life as a productive, contributing member of society is a place like Covenant House. They show these kids their worth and praise their resilience. The first girl I heard speak said "I know no matter what happens I can rely on myself. I learned that here."

This is a program and a place and people I can get behind. Covenant House does not stop at offering an immediate safe harbor. They strive to move each young person forward down the path to an independent adulthood, free from the risk of future homelessness. Every young person receives individual attention from caring adults who are ready to lend a hand up to a better opportunity.

I could go on forever praising Covenant House and their role in the lives of these kids. They are the only shelter for kids under 21 with families who can't or won't care for them. I know, you're thinking 21, shit they should be on their own...coming from where they're coming from, it's about 100 times harder for them to be on their own at that age than it is for 95% of us.

Covenant House feels less like a shelter and more like a family home that's also a school of life. They teach these kids how to get on another path. Covenant House also attempts to help the kids outside its walls, doing outreach on the street in the most dangerous neighborhoods. They are also the leading member of the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition. I left on Saturday morning thanking the universe for the existence of Covenant House and crying much of the way home. The stories I heard and the experience itself was really emotional.

I also left knowing that I have found a cause worthy of my time and money, a place I want to spread the word about. Thanks to our friends Joe & Catie for putting our team together and putting Covenant House on my radar.

For those who want to know more about the tenants Covenant House operates on:

The first workshop was structure. Street life is very unstructured. Covenant House has curfews, phone rules, and wake up rules (6:30 a.m.). As a person who only functions at my best with a routine, this spoke to me. How can you have a routine if you're going through every day wondering where you're going to sleep that night, if the few possessions you have are safe, where your next meal is coming from, where you might use the bathroom? You can't.

The second workshop was immediacy. Young people are welcomed without question or cost. The foremost goal is to provide quality services to youth in need in an immediate fashion. That means no long intake forms. No need for ID. Unsafe, right? Something I didn't know: most kids are kicked out of their homes without ID. Some have previous foster families hold their birth certificates for ransom. You're 18, get a job, right? Pretty hard to do without any identification. I would not have known how to go about getting my ID if my parents withheld my birth certificate and social security card. One of the things Covenant House does is get these kids proper identification so they can navigate life...and the job market.

The third workshop just about broke my soul. It was sanctuary - a safe haven from the street is one thing, but the important thing is that Covenant House emphasizes the inherent worth of these kids. Many of them arrive at the door without anyone ever making them feel like they're worth anything. We have all made mistakes. Most of us have a support system that let us know that we are not our mistakes. These kids don't come from that. The two that spoke in this room just astounded me. A tall black kid without a father since he was seven, killed in the drug trade. An aunt who molested him. A mother who beat him with every available object, and when he was 16 demanded that he face down a gang with guns to be a man and protect his family. He had nowhere to go except Covenant House and now he's going to college to be a nurse. And he was quick to smile and joke...after all that bullshit. A girl with a psychologist father who put her in the hospital more than three times. A mother who kicked her out starting at 13 and banished her for good at 16. She slept under slides in Camden, was assaulted on the street, and hospitalized again. She went to the state and was told they couldn't help her. She ended up at Covenant House, got her dental assistant degree and is going on for more schooling. She was so passionate in her belief that she is in charge of her life and what she becomes, not her past. Her voice shook with emotion but she was resolute. I was so proud for her.

The fourth workshop was value communication - communicating values which are life enhancing and not destructive. Kids know they need to lie, cheat, and steal to survive on the street. Covenant House enters into a relationship with them based on honesty, love, trust, and respect. Simple, right? Not if you didn't grow up with those values.

The final workshop was choice. Covenant House's goal is to empower the young people they serve. They must choose to enter this relationship freely and choose to change how they operate in life.

Covenant House is 99.9% publicly funded and a little under $3,000 from reaching its goal of $100,000 raised from this sleep out. If you are inclined to donate, please click here and if you're local to a Covenant House, check out the link above for in-kind donations.


  1. It's such a worthwhile cause! When you think about kids that are in these situations not from their own's heartbreaking!

  2. Oh man... I cannot even imagine what those kids are going through. Now you've got me curious what options there are for homeless teens in my area. I know there is a drop-in center but I'm not sure they can sleep there. Homelessness are a really hot topic in my city right now, and it's just such a complicated issue. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Supporting both you and Mike Doyle with donations made me feel good! I have tweeted and instagrammed praising Covenant House and asking people to help
    This is vital to turn out good citizens into the world. Kids from families with all good stuff go the wrong way. God and Goddess speed to all of them and thanks for opening our eyes ! Love. Your. Momma.

  4. I think it's great that you post about it to bring awareness to the cause that you're supporting. Otherwise you're missing out on an opportunity to get that cause some more recognition, and in the end, support!

  5. Now I want to go find all the parents of homeless kids and shake them, nothing makes me more mad than parents who shirk their responsibilities and this is the ultimate shirking of responsibility.

    The last couple of days I try to imagine where I would sleep if I were homeless and how the guy who sleeps at the beach access does so without ever feeling threatened. I don't even like to sit with my back to a door let alone sleep with no protection. :(

  6. Homelessness is rampant everyone and most people have no idea. My sister has quite a few homeless students and our church supports a shelter which brings the problem so close to home. I can't imagine trying to concentrate after sleeping outside one day and people do it every night. Thank you for sharing this cause, I hope it brings in the support needed.

  7. I love your intro about charity and wholeheartedly agree! I believe it's important to use vehicles like social media for GOOD and not just for fun. By posting about Covenant House (or any charitable activity/giving) it helps to bring about awareness and awareness spawns assistance. Love this!!

  8. This sounds like such a wonderful program! I think it's great that you participated in this, and I honestly think everyone should volunteer at least once in their life, because it is such an eye opener. It's always good to be reminded that not everyone is in the same situation as you and we have so many kinds of programs out there that need help and support.

  9. Thank you for writing about this. I have always had a big heart for children and young adults in the foster system and never understood how they were expected to live a productive independent life at 18. When nothing in their life ever taught them anything about stability or productivity.

  10. I have nothing to say but thumbs up. Personally I really throw my support behind animal rescues (you know me!) but I did donate to MFD solely because you were so passionate about it. So why shouldn't you talk about it?! You got me to donate and how many others? Hardly seems selfish or self congratulatory to me.

    1. One day I'll get this account switch thing right.

  11. That just breaks my heart & I can't even imagine. The whole feeling of never being able to relax - the fight or flight feeling. & like you said, then have to get up & be presentable. Function in an ordinary world where nothing is ordinary.
    Thanks for bringing light to this cause.

  12. I am so glad that you and others post about these worthy causes; it's how I learn about and am able to support them. My radar is very sheltered otherwise because I am so blessed. Thanks for all you do!

  13. I totally agree with your opening speil. I made myself a deal a few years ago that every month I would do something charitable. It's either a financial contribution to a worthy cause, volunteering somewhere, or making a goods or clothing donation. Sometimes I make mention of it for EXACTLY the same reasons you said. Remember the Ice Bucket challenge? It more than doubled the previous year's collected funds for the ALS foundation. There's a real thing that happens when people see their friends or neighbors being charitable too, and even if "keeping up with the Joneses" is the impetus for their own donation, who the hell cares? More awareness and attention and help for important causes is better than less—period.
    I also get super annoyed at the people who are all "It's not charitable if you tell people you're doing it." What? Are you kidding? That attitude is arguably what stops so many from donating or even being aware of causes they can truly help.
    Anyway, I know it's not why you guys did it, but you're braver than I for sleeping out on a cold night—and thank you for doing that, on behalf of the world. I was happy to donate to your husband's fundraiser and glad to contribute to a great organization.
    There is a Covenant House in my county. I'm adding them to my routine donation list. Thank you for bringing this wonderful foundation to my awareness.

  14. Thank you for sharing your experiences... I can't even imagine what life must be like for kids on the street!

  15. Given my past career, this hits me where it hurts. While I'm no longer shocked at how people treat their children, or any children, it still kills me to know that it really does happen. Organizations like this are too far and few between and the need is way too great. I think it's wonderful that people are working to raise not only money but awareness and hopefully increasing the reach that an organization like this has.

    When I was in grad school, one of my classmates did a similar thing and had similar comments (his concentration was housing and homeless policy) as did another blogger friend who did it in Australia (not Erin. Someone else). I don't know that I'm brave enough to do it, though.

  16. I love this post and I completely agree that this kind of information needs to be shared. I don't know if we have anything similar in my city, but I am now motivated to find out. I can't imagine being in fight-or-flight mode all the time, and I can't imagine what it would do to your mental and physical health. I think it's fantastic that there is a place for these youth to seek help.

  17. Love that you share the organizations that you're passionate about it. I'm with you...I care deeply about the volunteer projects that I'm involved in, so frankly it's hard NOT to talk about them! Raising awareness is so important.

  18. What an amazing organization! I can't even imagine what those kids go through on a daily basis with having to sleep on the streets because of situations that are beyond their control. Thanks for bringing this great organization to everybody's attention!

  19. Could not agree with you more in regards to people who post about their good deeds, and I love the recognition part of the good deeds that brings more awareness. I really want to be more involved with helping children in need, and we've heavily considered adoption as well as animals in need. Not every home should have a dog, but every dog should have a home <3
    Green Fashionista

  20. You make a really good point. I don't think I post enough about the charities I'm involved with but it could definitely help to raise awareness amongst my network despite if people think you're trying to get high praises.

  21. So I think you're awesome and I think what Covenant House is doing is super awesome too. Your conviction for this organization sent me flying over to their page to donate. :) It's not much, but it's something.
    I read someone's post about sharing your good deeds and how it seems like it's for show when you're constantly doing so, which I'll admit made me not share some of the things I do on this end. I'm not trying to be a showboat, I just want to be the good in this world and hopefully inspire someone else to do the same. You did that today. :)
    Thanks for sharing and being the good!

  22. Such a great program. I grew up in a very small town and homeless people were a big city problem, nothing we needed to worry about or so we smugly told ourselves. We thought (or more likely were taught) that they were lazy. When I finally moved to metro areas, I realized how wrong (and horrible) that thinking was. Most of the adults are battling inner demons of mental illness and addiction while many of the kids left because home was more dangerous than the streets. Thanks for shining a light on an important topic and one we often pretend doesn't exist.

  23. I am so glad that you shared your detailed experience about this organization because it is wonderful to hear about a place doing so much good in our world today. Being a kid is tough, I would never go back to my teens/early twenties and I had everything I needed. I cant imagine what it is like going through the world and entering adulthood alone with no real structure to help set you up for success. The constant worry about where your next meal or shower is coming from and what you are going to do with your future. More of these organizations need to exist.

  24. What an eye opening experience! Sounds like Covenant House is a very worthwhile charity.

  25. This was so hard for me to read. Strange, right? i have tears streaming down my cheeks as I try to finish. It is just unimaginable that children . . . babies . . . have had to endure and struggle so much. What parent doesn't make it their life mission to take care of and encourage and teach their children how to navigate life through love and understanding? I know the world is not like the happy little bubble I live in . . . it's just so humbling and heartbreaking to hear the stories. I looked up Covenant House in Atlanta . . . this cause is so touching to me I'm going to put it on my short(ish) term goals to see how we can help. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  26. Covenant House seriously is amazing. I hope they reach their goal and keep up the fabulous work.

    I love what you said about charity and all that in the beginning. I must admit sometimes I feel super braggy when I talk about donating, but I used to feel like an idiot for posting workout selfies (or selfies in general) and now i do that all the time, and if that isn't braggy i don't know what is. i don't need recognition but if you didn't talk about covenant house, i would never have heard of them and donated to such an amazing cause, so yes. bring on the talking about charities!


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