Homeless college students seek shelter in extreme cold


*Due to the request of Covenant House and respect of privacy, The Journal has given alternative names to residents of the shelter.

The polar vortex brought more than just cold to Covenant House, a nonprofit youth shelter on Kingshighway last week. The shelter’s emergency housing filled with youth seeking escape from the freezing temperatures who had nowhere else to go.

Covenant House offers beds on a walk-in basis. In temperatures above 90 degrees and below 30 degrees, the shelter provides extra beds to prepare for the heightened need, according to Covenant House CEO Jessica Erfling.

“Last week it was bitter cold,” Erfling said. “We don’t want any youth sleeping on the street in those conditions.”

Covenant House, a shelter located off of Kingshighway Boulevard, is a youth social services home that provides housing and supportive services to homeless youth.

Covenant house offers temporary housing to kids aged 16 to 21 for as long as two years.

Katherine Stalter works as Covenant House’s marketing and communications specialist. Last year the shelter served approximately 3,000 residential, outreach and emergency drop-in services, Stalter said.

Residents said they found a sense of family at Covenant House.

Tobias’s parents kicked him out last May when he shared his sexuality with them. Tobias lived at the shelter twice; once in June, and again shortly before Christmas 2018.

The 19-year-old no longer talks to his parents, but found a community at the shelter.

“It’s been kind of a family away from family. Everyone is a close knit community,” Tobias said. “We all come from different backgrounds, but we all have the same goal. We support each other.”

Tobias aims to get a steady job in the future. At Covenant House, he learns job skills, budgeting, and how to cook for himself.

Tobias said he hopes to someday work in theater or criminal psychology. He majors in musical theater at Missouri Baptist University in Creve Coeur, Missouri.

“With acting, you’re using your personal experiences to bring other characters to life,” Tobias said. “It’s really fun to do that because sometimes you may not like your story, but it’s your story, but being able to portray it in another life is very helpful.”

Cecilia came to Covenant House after her parents continuously kicked her out, Cecilia said.

Cecilia learned at Covenant House how to handle her mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.

Like Tobias, Cecilia hopes to one day have a career. Before she came to the shelter, Cecilia wanted to write dark fantasy novels. Now, she studies interior design at St. Louis Community College- Forest Park.

Despite the resources she received at Covenant House, Cecilia would rather live in a home than a shelter.

“Who likes living in a shelter? I’d rather live in my own place, but it’s decent,” Cecilia said. “ It’s better than my situation before this.”

Cecilia came to Covenant House from advice from a friend. Cecilia first lived at the shelter’s crisis center.

Erfling said St. Louis is a giving, caring community. However, more needed to be done to highlight homeless people’s need for help, Erfling said.

“The homeless population, especially youth that are experiencing homelessness, are sometimes a forgotten population,” Erfling said. “I think that we can raise awareness about the challenges our youth experiencing homelessness are facing. I know the St. Louis community will continue to support and do great work for the benefit of all our citizens.”

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