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Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Holiday Homecoming for Homeless Youth in Hollywood at Covenant House California

Covenant House Treats Homeless Teens to Thanksgiving Feast

Approximately 400 teens and young adults enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings on Tuesday evening at Covenant House California, a facility in Hollywood that provides services for homeless and runaway youths.

Current and former clients of Covenant House California enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner on Tuesday. (photo by Edwin Folven)

The participants were current or former clients of Covenant House California, a 104-bed facility located at 1325 N. Western Ave. that offers comprehensive services to homeless young people ages 17 to 21. Some of the youths who participated have completed the program and reunited with their families. Others are still alone, and would not have had a Thanksgiving meal, or even a roof over their heads, without the assistance of Covenant House California.

“These are kids who have been abandoned or thrown out, and need a place to turn their lives around,” said George Lozano, executive director of Covenant House California. “Before the economy collapsed, we were at capacity. The number of homeless kids now living on the streets is horrendous. Every single night, there is close to 5,000 homeless kids living on the streets of Los Angeles. We are only able to serve a fraction of them.”

The organization offers a crisis shelter where the youths can get emergency housing and meals, as well as a health clinic, counseling, substance abuse services, and educational and vocational programs that provide job training. Once the youths attain work skills or find a job, Covenant House California also offers subsidized housing in off-site apartments. The goal is to get the youths back on their feet and enable them to become productive members of society, Lozano added. The whole process generally takes two to three years.

“Hollywood seems to be a magnet for homeless kids. They think there might be more opportunity for them here than somewhere else, but it doesn’t turn out that way,” Lozano said. “Because a lot of these kids were forced out of their homes, they weren’t able to complete high school and they don’t have job skills. We offer not just food and shelter, we give them the tools they need to move on as adults.”

Covenant House California serves approximately 11,000 youths each year in Los Angeles, and has an additional operation in the Bay Area that serves another 5,000 individuals. Since its inception in 1988, the organization has helped more than 160,000 people get off the streets and assimilate back into society. In addition to providing services at the facility on Western Avenue, staff members head out in vans each night to locate homeless youths and provide them with clothing, blankets and food, and to try to persuade them to come back to the shelter. Lozano said the staff members mostly drive around Hollywood, but also look for the youths in downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Pasadena.

Many of the youths who are either current or former clients said that Covenant House California has made a difference in their lives. Anthony Solis, who is 33 years old, said he would probably be dead if he had not received help from the organization.

“It turned my life around.” Solis said. “I was on the streets for four or five years, and I didn’t know what to do. Without Covenant House, I probably wouldn’t be alive today. They gave me a roof over my head and stood behind me. That’s why I came here for Thanksgiving dinner, because it is like coming home.”

Solis said he left home at age 17 to escape his abusive and alcoholic father. He was living on the streets in downtown Los Angeles for a few years and was destitute, but one day decided to seek help and called 411 from a pay phone. The operator gave him the number to Covenant House California, which sent a van to pick him up. From that day on, he has been pulling himself up and moving forward, and now supports himself. Initially, he became in intern at Paramount Pictures and later got a job at Starbucks. Recently, he has become interested in politics, and just finished a job working on the campaign for governor-elect Jerry Brown. Solis said he plans to continue working in politics, and hopes to land a job in political finance or fundraising.

Current Covent House client Michael Brown, 20, also credits the organization with turning his life around. Brown’s parents divorced when he was 17 years old, after which he started living on the streets in Compton and was “in and out of people’s homes and staying in shelters.” Someone told him about Covenant House California, and he came to the facility in July. He has been participating in the vocational and educational programs, and hopes to attend college in the future and study to be a counselor, so he can help people in need.

“It has definitely made a difference in my life. If you are a person who is ready to move forward and stop playing around, this is the place for you,” Brown said. “They have everything here. It is more than a shelter, they are very supportive.”

Case manager Lon Usher supports the clients and ensures they are on the right track. Usher has been working at the facility since 1990, and said she never forgets the young people she has helped. Many of them remain in contact. She added that the annual Thanksgiving dinner was like a homecoming where she is reunited with members of an extended family.

“It is an amazing, fantastic feeling to have them keep in touch. You feel as if you were their parent,” Usher said. “You have to be like an octopus, you have to multitask to meet all their needs. I do a lot of nurturing and give a lot of hugs, because after all, they are still kids. A lot of them didn’t think they would make it, but they did, and that is my reward.”

Covenant House California also has a music program for the youth, and the guests at the Thanksgiving dinner were treated to a musical performance by their peers. The music program was started by Nikki Sixx, the bass player for the heavy metal band, Motley Crüe, who said he contacted Lozano three years ago while looking for a program to donate funds to from proceeds raised from his biography. Sixx said he was a troubled teen who came to Hollywood and was formerly addicted to drugs. He added that helping the youths at Covenant House California has been a labor of love.

“I was really blown away by the whole infrastructure of this place, how they help people get off the streets and put them back into life,” Sixx said. “One of the things I wanted to do was get them involved with music, so it is not only education, but they would have something fun to do. There are many layers to this program, and in the end, it’s a positive reinforcement for them to be here.”

Lozano said he looks forward to the Thanksgiving dinner each year, and added that the meal, along with all of the other programs, are made possible by private donations and volunteers. Anyone seeking information about Covenant House can call (323)461-3131, or visit

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A Holiday Homecoming for Homeless Youth in Hollywood at Covenant House California

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