February 11, 2013
We’ve seen the devastation Hurricane Sandy has wrought on countless New Jersey communities – leveling homes, flooding cars, and destroying personal property. Of course, the true toll is on our state’s people, who now must rebuild not just their homes, but also their lives. Communities up and down New Jersey are struggling to help their most vulnerable residents. Covenant House, an organization that serves New Jersey’s homeless youth, has been working extra hard after the storm to provide a safe place for homeless youth and displaced families. Their story and their struggle to continue to fulfill their mission is, unfortunately, not unique; it is a burden shared by communities and nonprofits across our state – and a call to action for donors and volunteers.
Before the hurricane hit, Covenant House in Atlantic City had already filled its 60 beds and began placing people on cots and couches. As Executive Director Jill Rottmann put it, “when the news of the hurricane surfaced, so did homeless kids who needed to find emergency shelter.” Making matters worse, Atlantic City would soon be evacuated, forcing these youth to spend the better part of three weeks moving among four temporary locations in South Jersey and Philadelphia.
At the same time, the homeless youth population quickly grew.
- Many of the young people Covenant House had helped find employment and get back on their feet found themselves homeless once again – their homes washed away or their place of work closed after losing power and then customers. These young people were now back in line, desperate for the basic services they had worked so hard to achieve on their own.
- Other newly homeless youth were in already-overcrowded situations exacerbated by shifts in housing options provided by friends or family. Covenant House has identified more than a dozen such young people in the Atlantic City area alone, with the number continuing to rise.
For these young people, who already struggled day to day, the weeks spent traveling from one shelter to the next were especially grueling. Many Covenant House employees and volunteers stayed with the youth the entire time they were relocated – at enormous personal cost – but it simply wasn’t enough to meet all needs.
That’s why ongoing charitable donations will play such an important role in helping Covenant House and other nonprofits recover. State or federal funding will not be enough to get these worthwhile programs up and running; it will take the sustained commitment of donors and volunteers alike.
So far, the Community Foundation of New Jersey and other supporters have helped Covenant House; but there is far more to do.
Covenant House is now working to cover their extraordinary expenses during and immediately after the hurricane. Over that time, Covenant House:
- Developed and executed an evacuation plan for its two Atlantic City facilities, as well as youth known to be sleeping on the street, under the boardwalk, or otherwise precariously housed;
- Secured its Atlantic City facilities;
- Moved 28 youth and 10 infants to its Crisis Center in Newark, New Jersey;
- Provided support to its staff who were personally impacted so that they can be present and continue to serve the youth;
- Redeployed its outreach teams to find youth made homeless by the hurricane;
- And readied its Atlantic City locations for youth to move back.
And of course the next step is to make significant repairs – essentially rebuild – their two facilities in Atlantic City.
Covenant House’s challenges are the same challenges faced by communities, their residents, and nonprofits across New Jersey. Rebuilding will not be easy. But the need is too acute and too widespread to do anything else.