Child homelessness is an overlooked and underreported tragedy. One in five children in the U.S. live in poverty and more than 2 million people face a period of homelessness every year. Red Nose Day, taking place this Thursday in the United States, will put the tragedy in the spotlight as several celebrities, charities and other leaders of the cause come together to raise awareness and money to help combat the epidemic.
Sister Nancy Downing is executive director of Covenant House New York, a charity organization that helps shelter and counsel homeless youth. She spoke with Townhall Monday about her rewarding position and the Covenant House’s new partnership with Red Nose Day.
Downing started by correcting some misconceptions about homeless youth.
“People commonly think that children are running away from home, and so if they go back to their home they will be fine, but many cannot go back to their homes because it is not safe."
Sometimes a young man or a young woman is left on the streets for reasons out of their control, she continued.
“There is a whole series of reasons,” she explained. “It can vary from coming out of a very poor family that suffers from a great deal of heartache. Sometimes there is violence in the family, sometimes there are drugs and alcohol, sometimes there are health issues that they cannot cope with, so the children end up on the streets and are at great risk of being exploited.”
For homeless young people, having no roofs over their heads is sometimes, tragically, not the only danger they face. Some also find themselves vulnerable to sex trafficking rings.
“We just completed a 12-city study of young people who have been homeless, and found that many of them have been trafficked and sexually exploited. The work we do is important work to get these children what they need.”
Trusted guardians are vitally important in a child’s formative years. Young people who have been trafficked have told Downing and other Covenant House officials that if they had had “a loving, caring adult in their life and a place to be,” they would not have been trafficked.
Despite the suffering these young adults have endured, Downing shared that more often than not, they still have an uncanny ability to see sunny skies ahead.
“I’ve met the most extraordinary people here at Covenant House,” Downing said. “They are filled with hope despite all they’ve suffered. They have hope that they are headed for a better life. Meeting just one person can change their life. It is really exciting to see the hope in their eyes.”
Covenant House joined with Red Nose Day last year and have benefitted from both funding and awareness.
I asked Downing for the most helpful thing a person can do if they walk by a young homeless person on the street.
“If they can get them the help that they need, get them to someone who can find them the help or get them off the streets, that would be the biggest thing people can do to help. They can participate in awareness campaigns like ‘Red Nose Day’ to help raise awareness of the issue. Getting them to a safe place is the most critical. People can volunteer, but if nothing else, people can pray for kids in poverty.”
Red Nose Day takes place this Thursday, May 25, with a celebrity-filled special airing on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.