Every third Thursday in November, I do something crazy. I sleep out on the streets of Atlanta to raise money for Covenant House Georgia and homeless teens. People ask me why I do it. And the answer is simple. I don’t have a choice. I’ve met these kids. I’ve seen what they need which is a whole lot of love, support, medical services and a roof over their heads. Trust me, I’m no camper. I like my 300-count sheets and my comfy bed a whole lot more than a piece of cardboard on cold wet ground. I need a good 8 hours of sleep every night and there’s no sleeping when you’re next to the railroad tracks in 35-degree weather on the west side of Atlanta.
I began volunteering at Covenant House about five years ago. My husband, David Lewis, is on the Board and he got me to volunteer even though I was already wildly overcommitted. I remember at the time telling him, “I cannot take on one more non-profit.” Then I visited Covenant House and I met the kids. They gave me hugs. I heard their stories. I understood how each and every kid who ends up in Covenant House got a seriously bum deal in life. They aren’t teen runaways. They are kids escaping abusive homes, kids who got kicked out because they came out as gay or trans or kids who aged out of foster care and have nowhere to go. They end up at Covenant House looking for safety and a place to rest their heads.
Over the years, I’ve met Valeesa (she now has a job as an insurance agent), Roshaunda (she got the medical help she needed), and Raneesha (who got out of an abusive relationship and began to turn her life around). This year, I met an entirely new group of kids. (I’ve shared their pictures in this post, but to protect their privacy are not using their full names.) Covenant House gives them hope and these kids have the most positive spirit despite what they’ve been through.
I asked M* to tell me what I should tell people who are supporting me in my sleep-out and she said, “Maybe you have problems at home. Maybe you’re not being loved. There’s nobody there for you. It don’t matter what you are going through, there will always be a rainbow on the other side.” L* told me, “A lot of people don’t know what it’s like. I was in foster care before here. My life was completely uprooted. I was never in one place for long.”
The fact that I was in foster care my whole teenage life? I use that as a success story not a crutch.” T* told me, “The first time I came here, I knew I was welcome. I saw rainbow signs and stickers that read, There’s no place for hate.” She also told me, “I don’t even look like I’m homeless when I’m out in public.” And it’s true. These kids look like any teen. They have backpacks, cell phones but they don’t have a safe place to stay.
One young man, said, “If it weren’t for Covenant House, I wouldn’t be here.” I presume he means alive. So, you see. I don’t have a choice. Sleeping out is my travel adventure the third week in November. And it’s the only way I know how to keep these kids alive.
If you’d like to support me, here’s a link to my fundraising page.
A few facts about the impact of your donation to Covenant House Georgia:
- Donation of $5,000: Helps 15 youth finish high school or start college and prepares 100 youth to enter the workforce.
- Donation of $3,000: Provides medical care for 10 neglected youth who have not seen a doctor in years.
- Donation of $1,000: Provides a month of shelter, food, and safety for one youth coming from the streets.
- Donation of $250: Funds 1 day of Street Outreach so Covenant House Georgia can bring youth to their shelter and provide them with food and immediate care.
- Donation of $100: Funds one hour of individual counseling for one youth recovering from trauma.
- Donation of $50: Buys a professional outfit for one youth preparing for a job interview.
A few terrifying facts about the state of teen homelessness:
- Approximately 100 adolescent females are sexually exploited each night in Georgia.
- In Georgia, adolescent females controlled by the child sex trafficking trade are sexually exploited by an adult male on an average of three times per night.
- Within 72 hours of being on the streets, a homeless youth is approached for sex. 49% of homeless youth have been sexually exploited.
- 72% of homeless youth have experienced or witnessed violence.
- 42% of homeless youth have experienced abuse as a child.
- Covenant House has served more than 1000 individual youth already this year.
- 30% of CH youth have been sexually exploited.
- 32% of CH youth were in the foster care system.
- 54% of CH youth have a history with the criminal justice system.
- 100% of CH youth receive individualized case management.
- 640 youth have received full medical exams while at Covenant House.
- 65% of the youth in the Rights of Passage (independent living) program exit to Permanent Housing.