Thrown Away Children: An American Epidemic

As I was walking down Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard from the suite I was staying in to the Covenant House of Fort Lauderdale a few blocks away, I remembered my own battles with homelessness and hopelessness in the city I was now visiting as a sustainable adult with a supportive family.

I was reminded of a rather silent epidemic facing America's homeless youth. I knew I was not doing more to shed light on my own experiences as a homeless youth, and that I could offer my story as a tool.

The Covenant House is a national organization founded in 1972, whose mission is to help homeless youth escape the streets. The Covenant House has locations scattered across America where they offer a wide range of services and outreach programs.

While I am usually skeptical of some organizations' shameless self-promotion, the Covenant House truly walks the talk and acts as an unsung hero in the fight against exploitation of minors and homelessness in America.

Some 15 years ago I was a "cov kid," which is what they call the homeless throwaway youths who live in the Covenant House. Like many others, I didn't have the resources and support I now have as an adult headed to law school.

No, at that time I was the poster child for at-risk youth, that's for sure.

Come to think of it, even as a fetus I was at risk. Having been born to a clinically insane mother and a refugee father who conceived my little life in the hallway of a mental institution made my beginning more like a bad joke than real life.

My biological family was useless where my situation was concerned. So they did what many self-respecting humans do -- they forgot that I existed and let me live in foster care.

So it was that my journey through 40 foster homes and three group homes would begin. Eventually I was adopted for a few short years and then my new parents died in an accident.

Following my parents' death I refused to go into a group home to live out the rest of my teenage years, and I decided to chance life on the streets. I ran as far south as I could without a penny more in my pocket than the money I'd saved mowing lawns in my neighborhood, enough to buy a Greyhound ticket.

In a last-ditch effort to get some help I phoned my biological uncle and announced I was in Fort Lauderdale, homeless, and needed assistance.

Perhaps it was the neoconservative Christian in him that prompted his reply.

"Sometimes killing yourself is an easier option than living," my uncle said. "Well, you're a faggot, don't ask me for any help. Sell your ass for a place to stay."

A passerby noticed what must have been apparent misery on my gaunt face and after hearing my plight he suggested the Covenant House of Florida. I took his advice and called the Covenant House's "Nine Line," and thereafter I was taken to their beach side oasis.

From day one the Covenant house gave me access to medical care, transportation assistance to find work, clothing to both live and work in, and the ability to reunify with family where possible or work towards independent living and a constructive life.

The place was better than most foster homes I'd lived in.

The settings offered staff who were eager to care and love, and who treated the residents with the respect we deserved as humans.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, each year between 500,000--1.6 million youth in the U.S. are homeless or runaways and 40 percent of those identify as GLBT.

Without places such as the Covenant House, the largest privately funded childcare agency in the Americas, waging the war against the scourge of homelessness the plight of many homeless youth would go unaddressed.

Now 15 years have passed and I have the comforts of a good family, reliable transportation, food, an education and a future. I stood outside the Covenant House and realized that although the days of my life as a cov kid had ended and other chapters are being written, there are many others whose homelessness is just beginning.

The Covenant House assists about 50,000 homeless youth a year, but they can't do it alone. What about the remaining youth who will go to sleep tonight without a home? Without funding and public interest only a small portion of those who have need will ever be helped. Instead we will build prisons to house humans who could have succeeded at life had they been given a half a chance.

What will happen to those who have been thrown away with no place to go?

Do you hear the silence of their voice? It's horrifying.