“When I got here in 1991, we were on Sunset Boulevard, and we only had a 20-bed residential shelter that Covenant House rented. We had a very small shelter in a very small apartment building. And we had a van outreach program, but it also was a very small operation. But the vision was always to expand because obviously there were many homeless kids living on the street.”  George Lozano — who retired last month after 22 years at Covenant House California, serving as executive director since 1999 — was sharing his memories with a visitor in his upstairs office, an interview that ended with a tour of the current CHC headquarters in Hollywood on the corner of Western and Fernwood avenues. Out front, inscribed on the tile sidewalk, are squares worn down by the thousands of feet of runaways and other destitute youth who have walked between the dark blue columns through the double glass doors. The terra-cotta stucco structure with its sharply angled roof design still looks as modern as the day it opened 17 years ago. And it still stands out in the seedy neighborhood of East Hollywood that the chamber of commerce has seemingly forgotten in its decades-long redevelopment effort.Attired in a sports jacket, open-collar shirt and khakis, Lozano sat with his legs crossed near a corner of the mahogany table, making points with his hands from time to time. A compact man with a thin mustache who looks more like 50 than 66, he appears to be gracefully making the transition from the head of a multi-million-dollar non-profit in Southern California to a retired bachelor in Florida.But the native New Yorker stressed it was not an easy decision. As a program specialist, he developed and shepherded Covenant House California, founded in 1988, from basically the tiny shelter to provide nearly 150,000 meals and more than 51,000 nights to homeless kids last year. The current programs offer educational advancement, life and job skills training, medical and mental health services, creative arts, recreational activities and more. “Probably what’s given me the greatest happiness is really seeing the success that we’ve had with our kids, with the young people that we find homeless and living on the street,” he said, leaning back in the black swivel chair. “And in this facility, it’s easy for me to interact with youth. So I’ve heard a lot of their horror stories over the years, and where they’ve come. If nothing else, I can leave here knowing that — and that is not just my doing, it takes a whole team to accomplish that — we’ve saved a lot of young lives, literally. “We’ve given kids hope and opportunities to turn their lives around. Kids who were living in very abusive home situations and thrown out of their homes, ending up on the street, living under bridges and freeway overpasses, in abandoned buildings. Good kids who really didn’t ask for that, but lived very tragic lives at home and were forced onto the street in most respects. “So the joy, of course, is seeing the success stories, and there are many of them,” he pointed out. “There are so many kids who had nothing, who were on the verge of dying or being killed. But they found Covenant House and now live in their own apartments, and have families and are successful.”Never-ending fundraisingChallenges have always existed alongside the triumphs, noted Lozano. With the recession and its lingering aftereffects, the economy has been a big factor. Because CHC is mostly privately funded, he’s had to lead a development team in a never-ending struggle to raise funds to keep all the life-changing programs going and growing. For the 2012 fiscal year, that figure came to $8,069,118, with total expenses adding another $600,000. It’s not exactly news that hard times have forced tens of thousands of families to lose their homes and caused industries, companies and small businesses to lay off workers. Lozano said both of these troubling trends have resulted in more homeless boys and girls flocking to the youth-beckoning mecca of Los Angeles. The poor economy makes it much harder for youths to find entry level jobs when experienced workers are desperately vying for the same positions. And the lack of affordable housing in Southern California means it’s almost impossible for even working class families, never mind homeless youth, to find apartments.The former social worker called the number of kids on the mean streets of Hollywood today “overwhelming.” (A report by the Hollywood Youth Partnership estimates there are 10,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles County.) At the same time, the number of agencies that house, feed and specifically offer services to homeless young people has been drastically cut. Right now there are only 468 beds for these down-and-out teens in the county. “It’s frustrating and it’s sad because there are so many youth going unserved,” he said. “There just aren’t enough Covenant Houses around.“The other thing is what many youth bring to Covenant House,” he added. “What I mean is what’s caused them to leave their homes and live on the street. They bring a lot of anger — anger at their families, at what society has given or not given them. They often lack the skills to succeed. So the challenge is how do you turn these kids’ lives around, because there aren’t enough services offered.”But for more than two decades at CHC, and before that as program director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Brooklyn, the joys have outweighed these considerable hurdles for Lozano. He’s never really burned out, and is retiring so he can travel more, especially to Italy and other European countries, while he still has his health. A Pallottine priestBut before Catholic Charities and Covenant House, George Lozano had a religious vocation as an ordained priest and member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate. What attracted him to the commonly called “Pallottines” was their chasm of encouraging Catholic action among the laity and fostering lay leadership in parishes. During his post-seminary graduate studies at Catholic University, his spiritual director for a time was Father Sean O’Malley, now Cardinal O’Malley heading the Archdiocese of Boston. As a priest, Lozano worked with youth and Hispanic communities in New Jersey and Baltimore, where he founded the Spanish apostolate.The apostolic notion of working with youth continued when he left the priesthood, finding its fruition in his work at Covenant House California. “I firmly believe that some of us have been given more than others,” he explained. “And I felt very blessed at what I’ve received in terms of my upbringing and being able to live with my mother and father until I entered the seminary at the age of 18.”At CHC, first as associate executive director and then executive director, he developed three levels of care: an expanded crisis shelter to meet the immediate needs of homeless youth; a transitional living program called “Rites of Passage” that has working kids put part of their wages into savings; and the Supportive Apartments Program, a last step toward independent living — where youths live together in CHC off-site apartments, paying a portion of their rent and bills while still having Covenant House California as a safety net for support.“And the model works,” he observed with a hint of pride. “Because when you’re working with youth, you really need a continuum of programs. I think there’s a misunderstanding that all you need to do is put a person in a shelter for a short period of time and then they get their own apartment. With young people it’s very different. They’re developing. They’re unstable. And so you need incremental steps to get them into their own permanent apartment.”Lozano stressed that none of this would have been possible without a committed, dedicated and passionate staff. “Working with those driven people, coupled with the success that our youth have, are what has made this job so enriching and satisfying and rewarding,” he said, getting up from the conference table. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0726/lozano/{/gallery}