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Nonprofit helps St. Louis’ homeless youth

Suzanne Wagener, executive director of Covenant House Missouri, and Anthony S., a participant in the organization's traditional living program, talk to 'St. Louis on the Air' host Don Marsh on Feb. 24, 2015, at St. Louis Public Radio in St. Louis.
Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio

In St. Louis, Covenant House Missouri has helped hundreds of homeless teens and children learn to live independently, get an education and gain needed life and job skills.

“Family dysfunction is the number one reason youth are homeless, quite honestly,” Covenant House Executive Director Suzanne Wagener told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday. “Between 45 and 50 percent of them have been in the foster care system and are homeless.”

For Anthony S., a former runaway who is participating in the nonprofit’s transitional living program, it was family dysfunction.

“My story’s not really different from anybody else’s,” Anthony said. “You thought you had everything, then you get placed in a situation where you feel like you’re by yourself and you have to strive to go for yourself.

“When your family stops being there for you, you gotta start fending for yourself. I found the Covenant House.”

Anthony said he spent about a year and a half couch surfing — staying with a friend for a few days before moving on to another friends’ home. That’s not unusual, Wagener said.

“A lot of our kids will find relatives or friends to stay with for a night or two — maybe a week,” she said. “And then they’ll go back out and they’re truly homeless, living somewhere on the street for another night.”

Through Covenant House, Antony has earned his GED degree and is now studying electrical engineering at St. Louis Community College. After earning his associate’s degree, he said he plans to transfer to the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.

“We have everything from basic employment skills to internships with area businesses in the community,” Wagener said. “We have education services. We do GED offering, which Anthony has received at Covenant House, and then we help kids who are interested in going to college — help them find the financial aid that they need and help them work through that paperwork.”

Teens can participate in Covenant House’s transitional living program for up to two years; the average stay is eight months, Wagener said. Covenant House is funded through donations and private and government grants, she said. The group also sponsors fundraisers, like Thursday’s Executive Sleep Out. Local executives will learn about Covenant House, meet some of its clients and spend the night in Covenant House’s parking lot.

Covenant House has made a significant difference in Anthony’s life, he said.

“In 2013, I was just always stressed out; never knew if I was coming or going. Just kind of living day to day,” he said. “Now it’s like I can wake up, stress free, no worries. I feel like I’m doing something. And when I get done doing what I’m doing, I’m going to make it where I want to be.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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