Most kids hear about us through word-of-mouth and walk in on their own. Some come to us referred by social service agencies, schools, churches, or the police. But we don’t just wait for kids to find us. Street outreach workers and volunteers travel by van and on foot to offer counseling, food, first aid, and information about the shelter. They look for youth in places where homeless and at-risk youth congregate such as under bridges, on street corners, and in dangerous and unhealthy situations. CHF also makes presentations to local organizations, churches, schools, etc.
Covenant House Florida is available without discrimination to kids from any geographic location or socio-economic, ethnic, or cultural background. The Fort Lauderdale program serves youth under 21 years of age, including teen parents and their babies. The Orlando program serves youth 18-21 years of age including teen moms and their babies as well. Covenant House Florida is currently budgeted for a daily cap of 80 youth in Fort Lauderdale and 22 youth in Orlando. There is a waiting list at both locations. We ask all referral sources, such as law enforcement personnel, social service agencies, pastors, hotlines, teachers, and guidance counselors, as well as youth and parents seeking help to call ahead to ensure a bed is available. In Ft. Lauderdale, call 954-561-5559. In Orlando, call 407-482-0404.
We help kids from all over the world, but over two-thirds of our kids are from the South and Central Florida areas.
Within the first 24 hours, each youth under 18 is required to call home to let his/her parents know that he/she is safe. The youth does not have to identify where he or she is at that time, but usually does. By 48 hours, the youth — or the agency — has to identify our location. However, when kids report physical or sexual abuse, we immediately follow the law and contact the state abuse hotline, and keep the kids safe either at our crisis shelter or by referral (when their safety warrants it) until the conclusion of an official investigation.
Each youth in our program works together with our counselors to develop a plan; for example, to return home, to go to a foster home or appropriate long-term program, to begin substance abuse treatment, or for older youth, to prepare for independent living. Residents have daily plan objectives to complete each day that fills their time such as counseling, health assessment, chores, sessions on life skills, employment, and teen parenting/pregnancy education, school or G.E.D. classes, working or looking for jobs, and following up on referrals, as well as planned educational/recreational activites.
The kids who come to us are in crisis, and their first and foremost priority is to work on stabilizing themselves to move toward productive lives. But the kids do help a great deal around the shelter. All our bedrooms are dormitory-style, accommodating multiple youth. The residents in a particular room share the housekeeping responsibilities of their room. The kids also do their own laundry, and they always pitch in to help keep the common areas and dining room clean.
Every day, we provide services and shelter to up to 75 youths in Ft. Lauderdale and 37 youths in Orlando. In addition, each site serves an additional 30 youth daily via street outreach, drop-in services, CSC in Orlando, and aftercare.
We realize that we are part of our neighborhood, and we strive to maintain positive relationships with the police, with other social service agencies, and with our neighbors, all of which often refer kids to us. They know we’ll accept the kids no one else wants. Sometimes, we have kids with unresolved legal issues. They may stay with us as long as they are following their court-mandates responsibilities. If the police come with a warrant, we immediately counsel the youth to deal with the problem or face discharge from our program. Throughout our 29-year history in Ft. Lauderdale and 19-year history in Orlando, we have endeavored to be excellent neighbors, diligently maintaining our buildings and grounds and immediately responding to neighbors’ comments or questions.
The kids may stay as long as they continue to work on their plan. Our emergency/crisis shelter is a short-term program where we help kids work toward a positive, planned discharge as quickly as possible. The average length of stay is under 30 days, but that’s a mathematical average and doesn’t represent a typical stay. For a few kids, a meal, some counseling, and a call home are enough. For a great many others who have been disconnected from home, school, and society for up to a few years, a few months may be needed. The average length of stay in our “Right of Passage” transitional housing program is up to two years. Although the kids usually stay with us only short-term, we build long-term relationships with many of them because often they need us more than once over a period of months or years.
The most common health problems we see are upper respiratory infections and skin disorders caused or worsened by living out in the open. We also see high-risk pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, consequences of drug and alcohol abuse, and injuries from fights or accidents. In both Fort Lauderdale, registered nurses staff our licensed on-site clinic Monday thru Friday and two Saturdays a month. All emergencies are handled immediately by referral to urgent care resources in the community.
We are 100% successful in meeting the immediate needs of the kids who come to us. But Covenant House Florida is a voluntary program. Kids come and go by their own choice — so we can measure only if they fulfilled their plan before leaving. And over a third do. For the kids who don’t stay with our program, we hope that our caring and respect have made a difference in their lives. These kids are not necessarily unsuccessful — they’re simply “unknowns.” We don’t have any way of tracking what happens to them unless they get in touch with us. Many, however, have written or called to tell us how much we meant to them when they were really down and no one else would help. Through the years, countless teens and young adults have told us how much it mattered that we accepted them in their hour of need. Often, they credit Covenant House Florida with saving their lives and affording them opportunities to reach their goals, including former residents now in college, serving in the armed forces, or working stable jobs and taking care of families of their own.
In addition to some short-term aftercare services, our transitional housing projects (Rights of Passage) provide supportive independent living assistance for older adolescents for up to two years. We make follow up calls one, three, six and twelve months after they leave to find out if the youth continue to maintain stable living.
We are endorsed by church authorities in the Archdiocese of Miami, the Diocese of Orlando, and other Florida Dioceses, but the institutional church does not fund our program. Much of our support comes from individuals of various faiths and houses of worship of all denominations. We do not discriminate on the basis of race/religion in providing services to kids or in staffing (employees and volunteers).
Our fiscal year runs from July 1st through June 30th. Last year, our expenses totaled $8,467,671 which 87.6% was dedicated toward program services, the remainder for fund-raising and administration. Most of our funding — 61% — came from private sources including individuals, corporations, foundations, special events, and Covenant House corporate support. The remainder was from government grants.
Most of our donors want us to use their contributions where they are needed most, however we honor all special designations.
There are other shelters for runaway and/or homeless youth in many cities, but most are small (10-15 beds), and few serve youths age 18-21. Covenant House Florida is part of an international agency with 22 programs in eleven U.S. States — Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York (headquarters), Pennsylvania, and Texas, and Washington, D.C. plus Canada, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Together, Covenant House programs served 71,000 youths last year.
Covenant House International, which is headquartered in New York City, is governed by a voluntary corporate Board of Directors. Kevin M. Ryan is the President of Covenant House International. Each site also has its own Board of Directors and an Executive Director who manages site services and administration. James M. Gress, who served in direct care and program administration positions from the agency’s inception in 1985, is the Executive Director of Covenant House Florida with leadership responsibility for both the Fort Lauderdale and Orlando programs.
Covenant House Florida relies primarily on the partnership from over 50,000 individuals from throughout Florida to reach out and respond to troubled youth. You can help.