Executives sleep on the streets to raise awareness about homeless youth

September 1, 2016


A piece of cardboard for cushioning, a sleeping bag, and a commitment to spend one night on the streets in the hopes that fewer homeless youth will have to: Catholic health care leaders and other executives around the nation will spend Nov. 17 sleeping rough in cities around the country to raise money for Covenant House, a New York City-based nonprofit that assists homeless youth.

Catholic ministry executives are among those participating in a national “executive sleep out” on Nov. 17 to raise funds for Covenant House, a New York City-based nonprofit that provides shelter and services to homeless youth in dozens of cities. Here, past participants settle in for the evening outside the Covenant House crisis center in Manhattan. This year’s event in 16 cities aims to raise more than $3 million across the U.S. (Photo by: Hilary Duffy)

This year marks the sixth year that Covenant House has held the executive sleep out. Participants in the sleep out, who are C-suite executives, business owners, Covenant House board members and well-known community leaders — including politicians, athletes and representatives from the arts — commit to raising $5,000 each to benefit Covenant House. The executive sleep out is planned in 16 cities this year, with a pledge to raise more than $3 million nationally from the event.

Covenant House, founded in New York City in 1972, provides services and shelter to runaway youth in need of a safe place to stay. Covenant House says in its research: "in case after case, the main cause of youth homelessness is physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse from parents or guardians." Tod Monaghan, Covenant House's senior vice president of development in New York City, said youth with nowhere to turn may engage in "survival sex," where they're given food or shelter in exchange for sexual encounters, or they may be trafficked as prostitutes. Some youth couch surf, staying wherever they find a temporary roof over their heads. Some sleep on the streets. All need a stable, healthy environment, Monaghan said, and that's what Covenant House aims to give them. Covenant House says it provided services to more than 51,000 of these youth last year through 27 affiliates in the United States, Canada and Latin America.

Brad Partridge, vice president of strategy for St. Louis-based Ascension, spends the night in a Covenant House Missouri parking lot last year as a participant in the executive sleep out in St. Louis. He and his wife Laura are chairing the St. Louis event this year.

Brad Partridge, vice president of strategy for St. Louis' Ascension, has invited Ascension executives in five cities served by Ascension and Covenant House — Washington, D.C., Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans and Detroit — to take part in the sleep out. It is Partridge's hope that a few Ascension executives will participate in the event in each of those cities.

Partridge, a board member for Covenant House Missouri and his wife Laura, a stay-at-home mother of five, are chairing the event in St. Louis with a goal of raising $300,000 to add toward the national total.

The sleep out event in each city usually includes a tour of the Covenant House shelter and some of the sleep outs add a visit to a transitional housing program run by the organization. Participants have the opportunity to talk with formerly homeless youth who are benefiting from Covenant House programs.

Safe haven
When a young person first comes to a Covenant House location, he or she is offered a chance to rest, something to eat and a hot shower, said Monaghan. Once the youth's immediate needs are met, a staff member talks with him or her about rules intended to provide a safe environment for everyone staying at the emergency shelter: substance abuse and weapons aren't tolerated.

Brian Cashman, the New York Yankees’ senior vice president and general manager, has spent the night on the streets of Manhattan five times to raise money for Covenant House. He is a member of the Covenant House board.
(Photo by: Andrew Kelly) 

In addition to a bed, the nonprofit provides medical services and mental health services. In several cities, Covenant House transitions youth to residential living programs that provide stable housing for from several months up to two years while the youth gain skills to take care of themselves. Educational programs can include GED preparation, instruction in proper hygiene and nutrition, and financial basics including finding a job, saving some money to avoid the need to resort to a predatory lender, and opening a bank account.

Monaghan said Covenant House clients may learn to establish healthy relationships with peers; some may reestablish contact with family members.

Visceral learning
Partridge and Dr. Richard Mandsager, another ministry executive who has participated in a Covenant House sleep out, both say their involvement has given them a better understanding of the hardships of homelessness — though they were careful not to equate their one-night experience with the challenges homeless people face every day.

Mandsager, chief executive of the Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, took part in a Covenant House Alaska sleep out in 2012 at the invitation of another ministry executive who served on the Covenant House Alaska board. During a bus tour on a cold night, Covenant House took participants to several street locations where Covenant House staff go to meet with homeless youth and encourage them to come into the shelter. It was sleeting with a temperature hovering around freezing on the night Mandsager took part in the fundraiser; the fundraising participants slept on a floor in a Covenant House common room. Usually sleep out participants stay outside overnight, but Covenant House will direct the group to stay inside in cases of extreme weather conditions.

Mandsager said the experience "really implanted" in him a sense for how hard it would be to be homeless.

Respite care
Providence Alaska Medical Center worked with several community partners to open four medical respite beds at Brother Francis Shelter in Anchorage in a one-year pilot program. The shelter is run by Catholic Social Services. Mandsager said the respite service for those who need shelter following an illness or hospital discharge likely will be expanded to 10 to 12 beds next year.

A group bundles up for a night on the streets in New York City to raise money at a "young professionals" Covenant House sleep out in 2015.

He's also a board member for the United Way of Anchorage, where community groups are collaborating with the city to fill gaps in area services to poor and homeless families. One addition to spring from this joint effort is a landlord liaison who can help people find affordable housing or communicate with landlords. The community collaborators also work to make sure there's enough emergency housing for those who need it.

Partridge said his involvement with Covenant House Missouri has deepened his understanding of struggles homeless youth face. He said in his professional role thinking about strategy, he includes a focus on behavioral health care resources, either provided by Ascension or in partnership with other organizations, in the markets Ascension serves.

His involvement with the Covenant House sleep out also deepened his commitment to the poor and underserved. "On one hand, it has enabled me to internalize the Catholic social teaching, the principle of solidarity with the poor in a way that I couldn't have internalized without having this connection with this agency, this group — getting to experience things like the sleep out and getting to meet some of the kids being taken care of there," he said.

Covenant House organizes multiple targeted sleep outs to raise funds and awareness of homeless youth — separate events engage mothers, young executives, Broadway cast and crew members and other groups. For more information about the Covenant House sleep outs visit:


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