Photo by Claire Sloan

Photo by Claire Sloan

After his relationship with his mom became tense, Dante Davis left home. He spent a year and a half couch surfing and living on the streets. .

Initially, Davis admitted he shunned the Covenant House Washington Crisis Center.  He knew he would have to participate in the program which, beyond shelter beds and crisis counseling, provides educational and vocational assistance for young people aged 18-21. And he felt like  no one at Covenant House  would really care about his situation as a homeless youth.

“In reality, people really do care,” Davis testified at the second annual homeless youth vigil hosted by Covenant House Washington on November 21.

At the vigil, business men and women from around the District agreed to sleep outside in the cold to raise awareness and money for youth homelessness programs, explained  Cellerino Bernardino, chair of the board of Covenant House Washington, a local affiliate of Covenant House International which operates 22 “houses” in cities all over the United States, Canada and Latin America.

This local Covenant was one of 17 to host a vigil. And the local sleepers raised more than $150,000 through sponsors for homeless youth in the District, reported Reverend Kim Bookard of Covenant Baptist Church.

“If we really want them to be our future, let’s make sure they have a roof over their head,” D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said at the vigil, expressing his commitment to care for homeless youth.

Mayor Gray was the founding and first executive director of Covenant House Washington. The mission of Covenant House is the same today as it was originally, Gray said: to give young people a chance to live the lives that they want to live despite adverse circumstances.

Twice as many people slept outside at this year’s vigil than at last year’s, said Bernardino.

“For us to sacrifice for one night in the cold, uncomfortable, says that it’s not okay that youth have to sleep on the streets,” Diane Milan of Covenant House New York said at the District’s vigil.

Jonathan Williams, 21,  thanked Covenant House Washington for making him the person he is today.

Formerly homeless, Williams now resides in a transitional living program.

Grammy-nominated artist Carolyn Malachi performed several songs at the vigil, bringing youth from Covenant House Washington on stage with her. Her message was one of encouragement and self-empowerment, she said.

“I had to stop feeling sorry for myself,” said Shay Hunt, a 19-year-old Washington youth living in the Covenant House Crisis Center.

Hunt shyly told vigil participants she had come to the conclusion that if she didn’t help herself no one would. Because she was willing to change her life, Covenant House helped her find an internship, gain her citizenship, and prepare to join the workforce, she said.

Ricky Harris said that he and other youths have found a sense of family and stability at Covenant House that had been previously missing from their lives.

“Before I got here I used to fight. I had a lot of anger issues. When I got here, the stress levels went down,” Harris said.

Harris is currently in his first year of Rights of Passage, an independent living program. He worked with Covenant House staffers and volunteers to help set up the sound system for the vigil, as he is in between school and work.

The crisis of youth homelessness in the D.C. area will not go away unless advocates, clergy, and everyday Washingtonians join forces to protect and care for the young and most vulnerable in society, said Rev. Bookard.

To the youth present at the vigil that night, Davis said, “Keep your head up. There’s always a better day.”