One of the largest privately funded organizations serving homeless, runaway and other at-risk youth in the United States and internationally has launched a multidisciplinary research institute in New York City. Covenant House International has established the Covenant House Institute to study issues associated with the homeless youth population, provide data critical for policy and funding decisions, and train social service leaders.
“The Covenant House Institute is a natural and important extension of our mission. We hope that by matching our strengths with those of experts in complementary areas, we can broaden and deepen our service to these children, from whom we have learned so much over the years,” says James White, the interim president of Covenant House International.
Having played a key role in developing the CHI, Bruce Henry, a nationally recognized authority on youth homelessness, will lead the institute. Over the past 22 years, Henry served as executive director of Covenant House New York.
Youth homelessness represents an urgent social and economic issue globally with estimates showing that homelessness affects more than 1.6 million young lives annually in the United States. Covenant House officials and homelessness experts say that people who experience homelessness while growing up are at high risk of joining the ranks of the world’s chronically homeless adults, whose difficult lives of hardship often end in premature death. They add that too little research has been conducted on how homelessness affects the development of adolescents into adults.
“This unparalleled initiative allows Covenant House to serve as an even stronger voice for struggling youth around the world. It provides a foundation for change to help these youths transcend what they’ve endured and become independent, successful members of society,” Henry says.
Covenant House officials say the institute will collaborate with a wide range of academic and social-service partners, tapping into its considerable expertise in the international Covenant House organization having worked with homeless youth in the United States, Canada and Latin America for 35 years.
The Institute is undertaking its first research initiative with the Columbia University Center for Homelessness Prevention Studies, an official partner of CHI and one of the few interdisciplinary academic research centers dedicated to issues related to homelessness. Dr. Carol L. M. Caton, director of the Center for Homelessness Prevention Studies and professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at Columbia, says there is “a tremendous amount of excitement about work in this area” around youth homelessness among the researchers at her center.
“We’ve been working with them to computerize (descriptive data on) a cohort of their admissions. This would be to inform us about the characteristics of the population coming into Covenant House. We think this is crucial as a first-step for us to get a better handle on a cohort of say 500 people coming into Covenant House so this will inform the development of National Institutes of Health grant applications,” Caton says.
“High on our list of research priorities is the development of a longitudinal study — a study that would follow a group of young people admitted to Covenant House. We would develop a project to learn more about how these young people fare after they leave. And we would expect that in this group that there would be some that would do well and some who wouldn’t do well, and that would inform future studies focused on intervention — how to help these kids more,” she adds.
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