February 23, 2024

Building a Supportive Community for Our Youth

The First Steps at CHNJ:

At Covenant House New Jersey (CHNJ), building a supportive community within our programs is a cornerstone of our mission to help youth facing homelessness. We create safe and nurturing environments where young individuals can rebuild their lives and work towards a brighter future. We offer various housing options tailored to the specific needs of our residents, including emergency shelter, transitional housing, and opportunities to refer them to long-term supportive housing within the community. Within these programs, youth are not only provided safety and access to food, clothing, and necessities but also with access to a range of essential services and resources. These may include educational support, job training, counseling, life skills workshops, and recreational activities aimed at fostering personal growth and development via the Dove Learning Center (DLC)

Staff within our programs are dedicated to creating a sense of community encouraging residents to support and uplift one another as they navigate their journey towards stability and independence.  Through the communal approach, we help young people to not only find housing but also to find a sense of belonging and empowerment as they work towards independent living. In this short video, listen to Kenny Greer, Associate Housing Director at CHNJ, talk about our work.

Our transitional housing work

Affordable Housing Challenges:

While our programs help empower these young people to develop the necessary life skills and confidence to live independently, finding affordable housing for our youth who are ready for independent living, is quite challenging in today’s marketplace for multiple reasons.

One significant issue is the limited availability of affordable housing options in the areas we serve. High rental costs and a competitive housing market make it difficult to secure suitable and affordable accommodations for our youth, even though they are employed. But again, we step in to actively work to address those challenges.  We work hard to apply for and obtain government vouchers on behalf of our youth that help subsidize their rental costs.  While the vouchers are quite helpful, they do come with their own issues.  Many landlords are hesitant to rent to young individuals with a history of homelessness or instability, and asking them to accept vouchers may be yet another complication and further reduce the pool of available housing options.

Additionally, systemic issues can complicate the process of securing transitional housing for our youth. Many of the young people we serve may face discrimination based on factors such as their age, race, gender identity, or source of income (e.g., rent voucher). Additionally, legal barriers such as rental application requirements or background checks may present obstacles for youth with a history of homelessness or involvement in the criminal justice system.  Again, we are there to aid our youth in navigating these waters.

The Housing teams continue to foster those established relationships with community partners, landlords, and real estate agents in Newark and Atlantic City and they are working hard to build stronger ties in Monmouth County as there is a growing need.

“One of the most important aspects of my job is to develop relationships with landlords ready, willing and able to rent to our youth.  Having an “accepting” landlord willing to work with us and understand who we are and how we will support our youth even after they leave CHNJ, is critical in developing affordable housing options for our youth.”

Kenny Greer, Associate Housing Director at CHNJ

We serve youth aged 18-21 who are navigating the adult world for the first time. But like all youth aged 18-21, entering the adult world can be challenging and further support may be needed even after they leave our housing.  “During their stay with us, because we foster that sense of community, we can still impact our youth even after they leave Covenant House.  They may have temporary issues involving budgeting or transportation that can lead them back into homelessness without our intervention.  It’s important to our youth that we provide this support and also important to landlords knowing that we will be there to help prevent or mitigate any issues from arising,”  says Kenny.

CHNJ remains committed to building community as a key ingredient in securing safe and stable housing options for our youth.  We are grateful to all those who support our work and the youth we serve.