Matt Kaplan (left) and Christopher Gaffney, Covenant House Philadelphia Bboard member and group president of Toll Brothers, prepares to sleep out at the New York City Covenant House in November of 2014. This is Gaffney's fifth sleep out and his first in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Gaffney)

Matt Kaplan (left) and Christopher Gaffney, Covenant House Philadelphia Bboard member and group president of Toll Brothers, prepares to sleep out at the New York City Covenant House in November of 2014. This is Gaffney’s fifth sleep out and his first in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Gaffney)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Christopher Gaffney, group president of Toll Brothers, is just one of many executives who will sleep out in Germantown on Thursday, Nov. 19, to help raise money for Covenant House Pennsylvania, the largest nonprofit provider of services to homeless and runaway youth in Philadelphia.

“It is by far the most humbling experience that I have ever had,” said Gaffney, the father of two children. “The night itself is like no other night people have experienced. It’s horrible. You are out there and you hear every car go by, every siren. You can’t imagine the stress it would put on a kid – and, of course, the extreme cold.

“Sleeping in the streets not only helps raise awareness and money, it’s an incredible opportunity to really help these kids out. It’s so small in our world, but what we bring for this one night for these kids is immeasurable.”

He added that 14 cities across the United States, including thousands of executives and leaders from across the country, will participate in this year’s Sleep Out: Executive Edition on Nov. 19 in Germantown.

“This tremendous event has really galvanized so many people, and it has allowed us as executives to get the word out about the plight of homeless and trafficked youth,” Gaffney said.

A report entitled “Homeless Youth in Philadelphia” by the nonprofit People’s Emergency Center in April 2013 stated that as many as one in 20 young people in Philadelphia had experienced homelessness. The report found that the number of students who said they’ve been abandoned, kicked out or have run away more than doubled from 2009 to 2011.

Of the homeless youth, only about 20 percent said they slept in a shelter or other public place. The rest reported staying with family, friends and strangers. Many of the young people admitted trading sex for food or a place to stay.

Hugh Organ, associate executive director at Covenant House Pennsylvania, 31 East Armat St. in Germantown, said in an earlier article in the Local that “studies show that once kids run away, within 48 hours one in three kids are lured into prostitution.”

Hannah, 20, a former resident at Covenant House and victim of abuse, shared her story in a video about Covenant House on the web at vimeo.com/132238894.

She said as a child growing up, her parents, who both used drugs, had “an open door policy to drug users.”

“By the time I was 13 years old, I was living in the streets,” she added.

She said that’s how she met a 24-year-old man who she initially thought was her “savior.”

“I thought he genuinely cared, so I never questioned anything he did,” Hannah said.

She recalled wanting to die so she wouldn’t have to deal with the homelessness or the abuse.

Luckily, Hannah eventually went to Covenant House, where she said she had her “own little cheerleading squad.”

“They did my hair for me and helped me get dressed for job interviews,” she said.

Thanks to the love, support and services she received at Covenant House, Hannah is going to school full-time and working as a direct-care worker.

In the video, she shares her favorite quote: “Don’t regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.”

“I don’t regret my past,” she said. “It’s made me who I am, but I don’t ever plan on going back to using drugs or going back to the streets. My only plan is to move forward.”

John Ducoff, executive director of Covenant House Pennsylvania, said that thanks to participants in this year’s Sleep Out in Philadelphia and the generosity of many businesses, organizations and other donors, the doors of Covenant House will remain open. Last year the Sleep Out: Executive Edition, now in its third year in Philadelphia, raised more than $235,000 to help fund Covenant House’s 51-bed Crisis Center, street outreach programs, transitional living programs and community service center. Last year, the Germantown center provided services for more than 3,000 youths.

“The money we raise helps us keeps the doors open and the lights on for the homeless young people we serve,” he said. “But even more than that, the support of donors from Chestnut Hill and around Philadelphia sends a powerful message to our kids that people they’ve never even met care about them, want to help them, and believe that they can transform their lives from homelessness to hope.”

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