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|Founded||New York City, U.S. (1972)|
|Services||Food, shelter and a variety of services to homeless youth between the ages of 14 and 20|
|Kevin Ryan, Sister Mary Rose McGeady, Father Bruce Ritter|
Covenant House is a large privately-funded agency in the Americas providing shelter, food, immediate crisis care, and other services to homeless and runaway youth. The organization also provides care to homeless youth aged 14–20 (certain locations care for youth as young as 13 and adults as old as 24), designed to transition them out of homelessness into independent adulthood. Covenant House offers services including healthcare, educational support/GED preparation/college scholarships, job readiness and skills training programs, substance abuse treatment and prevention programs, legal services, mental health services, mother/child programs, and transitional living programs.
In the late 1960s, the Reverend Bruce Ritter, a Franciscan priest, retired from his job as a professor at Manhattan College to begin a new ministry serving the city's poor. Joined by colleague Father James Fitzgibbon, he moved into a dilapidated tenement building in New York City's East Village. With volunteers including friends, former students, and neighbors, he began an effort to help homeless and runaway youth. By 1970, Father Fitzgibbon had moved on to other ministries, but Father Ritter remained. Adrian Gately, Patricia Kennedy, and Paul Frazier joined him to create the Covenant Community. In 1972, Covenant House was officially incorporated with its first intake center established at 504 LaGuardia Place.
Now an established non-profit, Covenant House began to fundraise to shelter homeless kids in Lower Manhattan and on Staten Island. In 1976, Father Ritter announced plans to create a multi-service center near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Covenant House then acquired a group of buildings on West 44th Street and moved its administrative offices to the new location.
Throughout the late 1970s, Covenant House expanded its social-service programs in New York City and began to branch out to other cities in 1980. For the next two decades, Covenant House grew, led by Sister Mary Rose McGeady (1990–2003) and Sister Tricia Cruise (2003–2008), opening centers in 21 more cities in the United States, Central America, and Canada.
In February 1990, Covenant House founder and President Father Ritter was forced to step down in the wake of allegations of sexual and financial misconduct, beginning with the accusations of Kevin Kite. Soon after, more accusations surfaced. Four men came forward publicly claiming to have been in sexual relationships with Ritter for years, including multiple who stated the relationships started when they were minors receiving services through covenant house. A report later prepared for Covenant House counted a total of 15 reported cases of sexual acts between Ritter and youth and young adults who were living or volunteering at the shelter.
Then-Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau began looking into possible financial improprieties or the use of false documentation by Covenant House officials. The Manhattan District Attorney's office announced that it was ending its investigation of Ritter's alleged financial misconduct and would not file criminal charges, on the day after his resignation.
Covenant House's board of directors immediately commissioned an independent investigation conducted by private investigative firm Kroll Associates, and the law firm Cravath, Swaine & Moore. After a five-month investigation, 150 interviews, and the poring over of thousands of pages of documents, their report noted that on the subject of sexual misconduct, "none of the allegations, when viewed individually, can be proved beyond any question." At the same time the report confirmed, the "cumulative" evidence against Father Ritter was "extensive."
Their report also cited a number of minor financial irregularities, but added that fundraising was professionally and efficiently managed. Sister Mary Rose McGeady, then associate director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Brooklyn, became President of Covenant House, instituting both financial and program-related reforms.
As of April 2020, Covenant House operates shelters in the United States in:
- Asbury Park, NJ
- Atlanta, GA
- Atlantic City
- Berkeley, CA
- Camden, NJ
- Chicago, IL
- Detroit, MI
- Elizabeth, NJ
- Fort Lauderdale
- Grand Rapids, MI
- Houston, TX
- Jersey City, NJ
- Los Angeles, CA
- Montclair, NJ
- New Orleans, LA
- New York City
- Philadelphia, PA
- St. Louis, MO
- Washington, DC
- York, PA
and, outside the United States:
- Guatemala City, Guatemala
- Managua, Nicaragua
- Mexico City, Mexico
- San Pedro Sula, Honduras
- Tegucigalpa, Honduras
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada, including youth worker Michele Anderson
- Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Covenant House Institute
Covenant House has created the "Covenant House Research Institute" in 2008 to provide research and public education about all aspects of the homeless youth population.
The Institute produces an annotated bibliography yearly, which is a compiled list of resources available to researchers on the topics of youth homelessness and foster care issues.
Covenant House operates a toll-free telephone number, (800) 999-9999 (the “Nineline”), which is available for young people experiencing homelessness and trafficking to connect with resources. Referred to as “the Nineline,” Covenant House has run commercials on radio and TV telling people in need of its services to "call 1-800 and then just keep pressing 9"
Despite having a Board of Directors, Covenant House's public face has tended to be its presidents. Father Bruce Ritter founded Covenant House and served as President from 1972 to his resignation in 1990. He was succeeded by Sister Mary Rose McGeady, DC, who served from 1990 to 2003. In 2003 the Board of Directors elected Sister Patricia A. Cruise, S.C., effective 1 September 2003. In addition to their administrative duties, the presidents of Covenant House have been known for their fundraising letters telling the stories of the kids Covenant House serves, some of which have been collected into books. Sr. Patricia A. Cruise resigned her position as President of Covenant House International Headquarters in 2008. Kevin Ryan, formerly the Child Advocate of New Jersey, became President in 2009.
- "Covenant House". Archived from the original on 2010-03-22.
- "Ritter and Macchiarola Quitting Covenant House". The New York Times. 28 February 1990.
- Farber, M. A. (1 March 1990). "No Charges Against Ritter On Finances". The New York Times.
- Charles Sennott, Broken Covenant (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992)
- Blumenthal, Ralph (4 August 1990). "Ritter Inquiry Cites Reports from the 70's". The New York Times.
- "Our Houses - Covenant House". Covenant House.
- "Covenant House Creates Institute to Study Youth Homelessness Worldwide". Philanthropy News Digest. August 14, 2008.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-08-08. Retrieved 2010-09-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Ritter, Fr. Bruce (1988). SOMETIMES GOD HAS A KID'S FACE: The story of America's exploited street kids - Letters from Covenant House. Covenant House. A selection of letters taken directly from Covenant House: Lifeline to the Street, published in 1987 by Doubleday. McGeady, Sister Mary Rose (2005). "SOMETIMES GOD HAS A KID'S FACE." Covenant House.
- Wosh, Peter (2005). Covenant House. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-3831-1.