- 1 in 45 U.S. children experience some form of homelessness each year
- Covenant House Intl has served over 1 million homeless youth in the U.S., Canada and Latin America
- Rights Of Passage program trains residents to keep a job, save money, cook and clean
- Covenant House president and CEO, Kevin Ryan says "claiming dignity" is key
Twenty-year-old Cherise Peters brims with ambition. Her positive attitude and unwavering determination to earn a doctorate in the medical field is unusual for a woman who was homeless just this past year.
Peters, like many homeless young people, had been living with abuse and violence at home, she says. She turned to the streets as a way out.
"As soon as I started living on the streets, I felt like it should stop because I had nothing. I wanted to get a job. I had no documents. I was incognito to the world."
One out of 45 children experience some form of homelessness each year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. Many have aged out of foster care or have been victimized by sex trafficking or have simply been abandoned.
Peters says she spent about eight months living on the streets of New York with a boyfriend who turned out to be wrecking her life. "I would tell him, 'We have to get out of the streets' and he's like, 'I'm comfortable. We found a bed.' We shouldn't be comfortable -- we are outside."
She also dropped out of high school when she ran away.
After eight months, something had to give. Eventually she dumped the boyfriend and found refuge at the Covenant House.
Covenant House International has served over a million homeless youth in the United States, Canada and Latin America as a bridge from poverty to opportunity, according to their own statistics. Besides providing basic needs like food, shelter and immediate health services, the organization tries to prepare homeless kids to live successful and independent lives.
"There are so many programs they have here and offer that there is no excuse why you can't be more than what you were when you got here," Peters says.
Peters is a resident in their long term transitional living program, Rights of Passage. The program trains at risk kids to find and keep a job, save money, pay bills on time, cook healthy meals and clean. It also requires them to turn over a part of their salary to the Covenant House to be doled out at the end of their stay into a savings account.
President and CEO, Kevin Ryan is inspired by the transformation he sees every day in his residents. "The reward of this work at Covenant House is watching kids claim their place in the universe: their first graduation, first apartment, first great report card -- all of those moments of them claiming their dignity."
Peters currently is training to become a medical assistant. She is also working to complete high school and start college. "No one is hungrier to prove themselves than a homeless young person that gets that first break," Ryan says.
Ryan wants to transform the sense of rejection and despair that can come from homelessness into the approval and trust earned in a nurturing environment like Covenant House.
"The least interesting thing about these kids is that they're homeless. They are actors and artists and poets and teachers and students and interns. So many of them are going to college or working really hard to graduate from high school. They're striving. They're enduring. They're healing. They're rising."