Despite funding challenges, Covenant House California remains a haven for young homeless.The goal of Moises Cabrera and Nick Semensky is to get at least one homeless youth off of the streets of Hollywood each day — or each night, to be more precise.“Hey, man, how’s it going?” Cabrera greets a couple of youth sitting on a sidewalk at the corner of Sycamore and Romaine Streets, which seems to be a point of encounter for young homeless. For the first few minutes, the youngsters are shy and do not move. “Do you need anything? We’ve got food, water,” Cabrera continues.One of the boys takes the initiative; he stands up, walks toward the van and greets Cabrera with a handshake. It helps to see the name Covenant House written with big letters on each side of the van. Covenant House California, on the corner of Western and Fernwood Avenues, where Cabrera and Semensky work as night case managers, is part of Covenant House International, a nonprofit with centers in more than 20 cities in the United States, Canada and Central America.For the last two years, Cabrera and Semensky have been going out five days a week from 7 p.m. until midnight.“Most of them have an issue with trust,” the young adult case managers point out regarding the segment of the homeless youth (ages 18-21) they work with. “So we try to slowly build a relationship with them by showing up every evening at the different spots they hang out.”The case workers offer the youth food, fruits, snacks, water and blankets so they can cover themselves during the night, plus warm jackets and all sorts of warm clothing during winter, all donated to Covenant House by outsiders.But their main task is to pick them up from the streets and offer them shelter at Covenant House, where they can stay for six months if there are any vacancies. Otherwise, they can weather the night sleeping on a couch inside the house, and the following day a day case manager helps them find a place at partnering shelters.That task has become harder due to downsizing caused by government cuts to subsidies for nonprofits that help the needy.The challenge on the streets“We’ve met you before,” Cabrera tells a youth as soon as he gets to the car and greets him. “Hey, man, you know we have shelter for you, right?” Cabrera asks.“I’ll come with you tomorrow, not tonight,” answers the young man. “And you know what, my birthday’s on Sunday!” he exclaims happily. The homeless youth does not want food, just blankets for him and a few of his “friends,” who from across the street are watching all the activity taking place at the van.Within an hour, more youth welcome the food and mostly the blankets. But when offered shelter all of them say the same: “Not tonight.”Suddenly, Cabrera’s mobile phone rings. He picks up and conducts a 10-minute conversation. It seems three youth were looking for shelter after being evicted from their apartment. They were directed to Covenant House through a crisis hotline. It is about 8 p.m. and Cabrera sets an appointment with them later that night. If they are, in fact, homeless, they might stay that night at the shelter, where every room is booked. Most likely, they will be placed at another shelter, but will have the opportunity to take advantage of all of Covenant House’s programs.Hope is at the door“It’s so hard for them to leave the streets,” observes Religious Sister of Charity Margaret Farrell, the shelter’s spiritual ministry coordinator for the last 12 years, who rides in the van once in a while. Hope is the first word one sees at Sister Farrell’s office door as she leads a visitor inside, and she apologizes for the cramped space full of boxes and bags with used clothing and toys waiting to be sorted.Photos of young people adorn the edge of a window. “Those are former [Covenant House] residents who have died,” she explains.There is Taz, who at 22 was shot in a fight; Thia, of Russian descent, who was killed in a hit and run; Felix, a gay prostitute rejected by his family; Michael, who died at a hospital (it was impossible to find any information about his family); and 20-year-old Jesse, who suffered from severe sleep apnea (it took about seven months to find his mother so she could bury him); and a former marine who committed suicide. The photos remind Sister Farrell that these youth were loved by God and deserve to be honored. She has promoted car washes and other activities where residents have the opportunity to help raise funds for their peers’ funeral services and burial. “This provides them an opportunity to give back,” she said, “to learn there are others who are even less fortunate than themselves.”Staff and volunteers usually join the residents in these activities as well.Aside from the one-on-one meetings, Sister Farrell holds support group meetings with the youth who are dealing with substance abuse. For those wishing to receive the sacraments, she helps prepare them. “This is about saving lives,” she says, “regardless of their religious beliefs.”But where Sister Farrell invests a big chunk of her time is in follow-ups, making sure the youth get a place to live in healthy environments.And there are success stories, like the female resident who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, plus two master’s degrees and a doctorate from Harvard, and the transgender who after years of substance abuse is now clean living in her own apartment and waiting for a kidney transplant. Sister Farrell has accompanied the woman all along.Open 365 daysCovenant House is open all year long, 24 hours seven days a week. There is always a case manager on duty.The in-take office is the filter. Staff members check the data provided by the youth and they always have bag lunches to offer the applicant, whether he/she is accepted or not. If not, they are offered other options with partnering programs.“We can’t serve everyone, but we can’t turn away anyone,” said George Lozano, executive director.The idea of the shelter started in 1988 when a group of volunteers started a street outreach program in Hollywood.Government funding made possible the opening of the 36,000 square-foot residential center, featuring a 64-bed crisis shelter and a 30-bed transitional living center. There are plans to expand the latter to 40-50 beds in a next-door building acquired in 2008 that houses temporary offices.Covenant House also offers a health clinic, educational programs (including GED preparation, college application assistance, computer skills courses, music, art, yoga and dance), employment services (job training programs, job preparation courses), cafeteria, and recreational space.The nonprofit operates with a $10 million budget. About 12 percent of it is raised through an annual fundraiser dinner.Seeing a need in the Bay Area, in 1998 Covenant House California expanded beyond Los Angeles and established an outreach and community service center in Oakland. It later became Covenant House Bay Area, with 18 beds in the crisis shelter and 12 beds in the transitional living center.According to the agency, there are about 15,000 homeless youth living on L.A. County streets and about 10,000 in the Bay Area. Of the 1,500 youth who emancipate from the foster care system in Los Angeles and Alameda Counties each year, nearly 50 percent will be homeless within six months. Many of them wander in different cities and a high percentage of the ones who arrive in Hollywood are looking to get a job in the entertainment industry. Many hail from Europe, Africa or other states.And at least some of them encounter case workers like Moises Cabrera and Nick Semensky, who make their nightly rounds with varying degrees of success.On this week in early July, they were somewhat successful. They had persuaded three of the youth living on the streets of Hollywood, Santa Monica and Venice Beach to try a new life.For donations, volunteering and mentoring opportunities at Covenant House, call (323) 461-3131 or visit{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0907/covenanthouse/{/gallery}