Providing a longer runway for at-risk youth

August 4, 2023 Providence News Team

It is 9 a.m., and in the entryway of Covenant House Alaska in Anchorage, some of the youths there are just beginning to stir. One young woman, her hair wild, wearing fleece pajama bottoms and wrapped in a blanket, makes her way into the café, where the scent of fresh coffee emanates from the doors.  

Inside the café, another resident is learning how to make that coffee under the guidance of café manager Megan Davey. A third sits alone at a table, class books and notes spread before him.  

This is the everyday scene at Covenant House Alaska (CHA), which for 34 years has been creatively meeting the needs of at-risk youth ages 13 to 25 to help them find a brighter future. Since 1988, CHA has helped more than 30,000 youth experiencing homelessness or victims of human trafficking find a way forward. It is guided by the CHA vision: “To make the experience of youth homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring.” 

With the help of longtime, cornerstone investors like Providence Alaska, it is working.  

“We appreciate that Providence recognizes youth homelessness as a health care crisis,” said Joe Hemphill, CHA’s chief development and external affairs officer. “It is a service to the community that we provide by developing healthy, high-functioning adults. These young people are certainly falling into cracks, especially if they reach the place where they are adult age and chronically homeless. We are interrupting that path.”  

During the past year, Providence’s support has helped CHA with one of its most ambitious initiatives yet: Bridge to Success. Bridge to Success has two components – 22 on-site micro-apartments called Covey Lofts, and Covey Academy, a training center offering education or workforce development to help young people take the next step toward independence.  

In CHA terminology, the effort gives youth a “longer runway,” or more time to figure out adult living before taking off on their own.  

“We know and understand that our youth have experienced trauma,” said Sean Gaither, director of housing, which includes Covey Lofts. Gaither works with youth to show them exactly what it’s like to be a tenant in an apartment – paying rent on time, keeping their space clean, interacting with other adults. It may seem straightforward, and for children who grew up with a strong support network, it likely is. Most of CHA’s youth, however, don’t have that. Besides homelessness, many of these young people have experienced domestic violence, human trafficking, teen pregnancy, disabling conditions and more. 

“We want them to grow and learn, and we want to empower them to make adult decisions,” Gaither said. “We help them when they make mistakes – and they do – to correct behaviors. They are seeing firsthand the amount of trust we put in them; they feel it, they notice it and they respond to it.” 

Hemphill said CHA provides “trauma-informed care,” which considers a person’s complete life situation when offering help.  

“We know from research that it takes 30 days for those who’ve experienced trauma to relax and trust,” he said. “We also know that one of the bigger indicators of success is to have two permanent connections with two stable adults.”  

Robert Perea is resident life coordinator at the newly constructed Covey Academy, which opened in 2022 and offers vocational training and education services to help youth prepare for independence. Upstairs are additional mini-apartments nearly identical to the lofts and designated for those coming from outside of Anchorage for training.  

“We bring the training here because we are working with a population that often doesn’t have resources like a vehicle,” Perea said. “We try to really empower our youth and provide training that can help them live independently.”   

Perea said Covey Academy has already offered several popular courses, including ones for maritime careers, manicurist training, airline ground maintenance, and IT career training, among others.  

“It gives me a lot of joy to see their belief in themselves grow,” Perea said. “It shows in their body language, their shoulders relax, and they go from shy to outgoing. To help them realize their dreams are possible feels good.” 

Adults like Perea, Gaither and countless others working at CHA show, through their actions, that youth experiencing homelessness have the right to feel safe and loved. They help them find their “two stable adults” and gain independence through small, positive steps. Investors like Providence underscore that belief in this model of care. 

“The 30-year partnership with Providence has allowed us to be innovative in the way we provide services,” he said. “A lot of funding [from other donors] comes with strings attached, and it is powerful to have organizations like Providence trust in the work year-on-year as we have grown to meet youth where they are and serve them in ways that have demonstrated outcomes of success.” 

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