One of our young people, Natalie, came to us about 18 months ago. She had lived with her mother surrounded by relatives, but, within a few months, her great-grandmother, grandmother, and uncle — the only father she ever knew — passed away. She was trapped in a relationship with a boyfriend who beat her, and, one day, she and her mother had a fight and her mother threw her out of the house…for good.
These are Natalie’s words:
February 15, 2013, was the day I found myself crying because I did not know exactly what to do. It was a day I never thought I would see. It was the day that changed my life. It was the day I became homeless.
Natalie went from friend to friend to friend until she ran out of friends, and she ended up on the street. That’s when she came to Covenant House. She stayed at our Crisis Center for a few months, where she broke things off with her boyfriend — and, after he showed up looking for her, got a restraining order against him with our help. She found a job, saved money and moved to Rights of Passage.
While she was homeless, and the whole time she was with us, she stayed in high school. Just like any family, we had a party to celebrate her graduation in June. And just like any family, we packed her up and moved her into her college dorm room this fall.
In her college application essay, Natalie wrote about the stigma of being homeless. She said:
I thought everyone would look down on me but the Covenant House showed me kindness and made me believe in myself…I finally had people genuinely pushing me to do better and for me to expect more from myself. Covenant House affirmed me and made me feel proud of my achievements. Living at the Covenant House gave me something to live for.
She also recognizes that she wouldn’t be the person she is now if she hadn’t had these experiences.
Sometimes I am thankful for becoming homeless; had I not, I do not know where I would be today. I will never let my past determine my future, because even though my tunnel seemed pitch black, I found the light and I know that the light will always be at the end of the tunnel.
Two years ago, a patient came into an emergency room in a local hospital. The patient complained of serious pain, but the doctor quickly realized that the patient was in the depths of addiction and was drug-seeking. The doctor refused to give the medicine and the patient became violent, grabbing a scalpel and attacking the doctor. At the last second, a security guard had to restrain the patient, preventing the patient from stabbing the doctor — or even worse.
Two years later, we’re not sure what’s become of the patient. But we do know about the security guard, James — he’s one of our kids. The hospital recognized James for his bravery and gave him an award, which , to this day, hangs on the wall of one of our buildings.
Because of his heroism, James quickly became well-known throughout our Covenant House community. But the depths of his bravery are only truly understood by those who know how James came to be part of our family. He was living with his mother, little brother, and little sister. His mother lost her job and the family, unable to pay rent, became homeless. They moved from the street to shelter and back again as they tried to get back on their feet. Finally, there was a ray of hope — a program had an opening for a family apartment. But when they arrived that day to complete the paperwork, the caseworker advised that there was a problem. Because James was 18, the program’s rules didn’t allow him to live in the apartment with his family. James decided, then and there, that it was more important for his mother and little brother and sister to have a safe place to live, and he chose — he chose — not only to be homeless, but to be alone.
Luckily, he found us soon after. He has worked his way through our programs with focus and determination, and is currently chasing his dream of becoming a police officer, a fitting career for someone like James whose bravery and courage inspires us each and every day.