Many of us had a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. Maybe it was simply our good health or a steady job. Probably most of all, however, we gave thanks to God for our loving families and cozy homes.But the current and former residents of Covenant House California (CHC) in Hollywood — the non-profit agency that has reached out to at-risk homeless youth and offered opportunities to turn their troubled lives around since 1988 — had something special to give thanks for when they came together for “Thanksgiving Tuesday” on the evening of Nov. 20.The youths and young adults had somehow survived on the mean streets of Los Angeles for weeks, months and even years before coming to Covenant House. Youths like Joshua Saurbier, 20, who just arrived there, in fact, two weeks ago. Within a month after his family moved from Texas to Southern California seven years ago, his father split and his mother had a severe stroke that left her in a wheelchair. So since the age of 13, he’s been responsible for taking care of her 24 hours a day. The family struggled, just getting by on the mother’s SSI disability checks. But then his older sister, who was in the throes of addiction, stole all their savings to buy more drugs. “And that made us homeless for eight or nine months, with my mom in a wheelchair here in Los Angeles,” he explained. “So we were, you know, sleeping by railroad tracks and by the side of freeways.”When his mother died three weeks ago, the hospital social worker told him about Covenant House. And after an interview with an intake outreach worker, the staff member called him back the next day and said, “Could you come in? We have a bed for you.”Joshua did and was admitted to the agency’s crisis shelter. He has already been tested to see what grade level he’s at and started working with a tutor to earn his GED high school diploma. He’s gone to the on-site health clinic for a checkup and worked out a detailed plan to follow with his new social worker. “And I’m looking forward to getting into the ROP (Rights of Passage) transitional program here and getting an internship,” he said. “I hope that the internship will get me some job experience because I haven’t really had much. And then, eventually, I want to become a nurse.” The formerly homeless youth observed, “I think it’s an amazing program because they pretty much give everything to you that you need. OK, they give you clothes. They feed you three meals a day. They help you in every way you possibly need. And if you follow the program like you’re supposed to, you can become a great success story.”Confidence buildingAnother resident sitting nearby was nodding. Kayshon Moody, 21, came to Covenant House seven months ago. When his roommate lost his job, the certified medical assistant couldn’t keep up the rent payments. “So I lost housing,” he said. “And then the last day my phone was going to be shut off, I googled ‘free housing for youth’ and I found Covenant House. I called and talked to a staff person here named Chris, and within a week I was in here.”After going through the crisis shelter program, he made it into the ROP program. And he proudly pointed out that he currently holds down three part-time jobs. He’s an intern in Covenant House’s Employment Special Program, helping other residents write their resumes and prepare for job interviews. He does the same at Glendale Youth Alliance, which provides employment preparedness training for the city’s low-income youths. But his best job is being a sales associate at Charlotte Russe, a trendy women’s clothing store in Burbank.“The staff are on you and, like, they help you a lot here,” said Kayshon. “They’re always telling you to get your stuff done. They get inside your head so much. And they strive for you to have confidence that you’re going to move on. Forget the past and start doing good. So that’s what gave me confidence on my own job interviews.“I love Covenant House. I made a lot of improvement from here.” For George Lozano, executive director of Covenant House California since 1999, Thanksgiving Tuesday is a special way for current and former residents to celebrate the holiday with board members, volunteers and donors. He thinks of it as a big family gathering.Five days earlier, Covenant House California had joined with Covenant Houses around North America in holding an executive “Sleep Out” to raise awareness about the horrific plight of homeless youths. In the parking lot of CHC on Western Avenue, nearly 30 business and community leaders were given a large cardboard box and sleeping bag to bed down during a cold, rainy November night. Through sponsors, the group of sleepers raised more than $110,000.“The reason we did this was there are so many youths on the street, and the numbers seem to be increasing,” Lozano told The Tidings. “And what we tried to do is just raise awareness about the plight of homeless youths here in Los Angeles County and let people know that they need help.“This doesn’t get the publicity that it used to, but the problem hasn’t gone away,” he said. “And we’re at capacity every single night. We even sleep the overflow on mats in the large common areas because there’s no room. On any given night, there’s between 10,000 and 15,000 homeless youths in the county.”‘They welcomed me’Octavio Del Castillo, 24, hasn’t missed a Thanksgiving Tuesday in six years because Covenant House is really now his family. His own immigrant parents from Mexico, who settled in Los Angeles when he was six, literally kicked him out of their home when he was 13 and they found out he was gay. He lived on the streets of East L.A., sometimes staying with friends or at a neighbor’s or occasionally in a motel when he could scrape together the money. But all the while, the homeless youth kept attending classes at Garfield High School, determined to graduate.When he was 18, a friend told him about Covenant House. “So as soon as I came in, they welcomed me, and they helped me to graduate high school,” he recalled. “They paid for my prom, and cap and gown — everything. So thanks to them, I graduated and I started getting myself together. It took me a little while because I was just a kid. I had made bad decisions. So I was like 18, 19, 20 before I got it together.” Octavio stayed at Covenant House for four-and-a-half years, including the crisis shelter, then going through the transitional Rights of Passage program and finally the Supportive Apartments Program that fosters independent living.“Covenant House helped me to believe in myself,” he said. “Like, my family gave me their back, and George Lozano and other people here became like my family. And I’m always going to come back — whether I’m 30, 40, 50, 60 — because Covenant House is my family.” Anthony Solis, 35, also found a family at Covenant house, but a decade earlier. “It was just daily abuse from my alcoholic and then-addict parents,” he explained. So he started running away from home in East L.A. when he was barely 15. One time when he came home, they wouldn’t let him inside. And his mother had cut up all his clothes with a pair of scissors.He decided to go downtown near skid row. His first day there he got mugged and robbed. He slept under freeways and makeshift tarps or in cardboard boxes. He wound up with no shoes and was constantly scrounging for food. In effect, he became an inner-city migrant. “One day when I was 18, I just wanted to end my life and was just crying and crying,” he recalled. “I picked up a pay phone and I cried to the operator and told her I needed help. She transferred me to the 1-800 number for Covenant House. And they came in a big red van and picked me up that day. I was in the Rampart division, another dangerous area.“At first I was so scared in the crisis shelter, ’cause I didn’t know what a shelter was like, and I had three other roommates. But then it was kind of easier, I guess, because I knew that the other kids were going through the same issues as me.”Soon he got a job as a cook in the cafeteria and then an off-site position as an assistant manager at a Starbucks in Beverly Hills. He got into the Rights of Passage program and was about to graduate to single independent living when Covenant House flew him to New York City. There in Times Square, before some 30,000 people during a candlelight vigil, he read a speech written by President Bill Clinton on homelessness.“That moment means so much to me, because I was this boy who was so broken and abused and lost,” he said. “But I just knew at that moment in New York that there was no more ever going back to homelessness. I just knew at that moment it was the whole turning point in my life.”Coming back to Los Angeles and starting to live independently, he got an internship job as a set decorator at Paramount Pictures. And by the time he left the program, he had saved $15,000. With that nest egg, he moved into a nice apartment in West Hollywood.For the past five years, Anthony has explored a new career path. He’s been doing fund-raising and working on political campaigns, including President Barack Obama’s recent successful second-term run. But his plans now are to go back to school to earn a college degree.“I accomplished all I have, and thank God for Covenant House, but now I need to get my education,” Anthony said. “They gave me the tools to live my life. And it was at a time when I was so hurt without my mom and dad. Covenant House saved my life. To me, this is my home.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1130/covenanthouse/{/gallery}