By Danielle Beurteaux
For the thousands of kids on the streets of New York City, finding shelter can be an intimidating prospect. “‘I don’t have a place to stay’ is a pretty big admission for anyone to make,” says Philip Andryc. Some of the lucky ones find their way to Covenant House.
| ||Philip Andryc: Cops will often say, ‘Go to Covenant House, they can help you out’|
Andryc, 55, partner and director of research at $1.3 billion fund-of-funds Berens Capital Management, is board chair of Covenant House New York. Covenant House offers shelter and training programs to homeless kids across the U.S. and in Canada and Latin America.
When Andryc—who grew up in a factory town in Ohio and was the first in his family to go to college—moved to New York in 1977 after graduating from Dartmouth, he decided to get involved with a community-focused organization that helped people who were down and out. He found Covenant House and began by writing checks. He joined the New York board in 2001 and became board chair in 2009.
The first Covenant House opened in New York City in the late 1960s with the aim of helping kids who came to New York and ended up on the streets. Now 80% of its clients are local, says Andryc, and the numbers it serves have increased in a big way since the recession. A typical night means providing beds for about 300 kids at the crisis center, Covenant House’s midtown building; more than 2,800 kids came through its doors last year. Covenant House runs programs including street outreach, health services and education programs. One program, Rights of Passage, prepares kids with the basic life skills to live independently. About half the teens find Covenant House through a network of street kids, but police also direct kids there. “If a kid says, ‘I’m confused, I don’t have a bed, I don’t have a home,’ the cops in the area will often say, ‘Go to Covenant House, they can help you out,’ ” says Andryc.
Covenant House is a safe place for teens to be teens, says Andryc, while offering forgiveness, boundaries and guidance. The client population ranges from midteens to early 20s, and most are homeless because they’ve tried to escape some form of abuse. “What strikes me is the warmth of the staff,” says Andryc. “The kids often act out since many have experienced nothing but frustration and dead ends in their lives, but the staff is extremely dedicated, and they may be the first adults the kids can talk to and can trust.”
As a board member, Andryc has looked at the business aspect of the agency. Covenant House New York executive director Jerry Kilbane says Andryc has spearheaded the restructuring of the board and ensuring the agency’s fiscal health.
Covenant House is now the biggest provider of beds for homeless teens in the city. “If we don’t do anything about [homelessness], it won’t simply disappear, and with various cutbacks in government support this issue is likely to worsen,” Andryc says. “We’ll have a continued growing disenfranchised group of people. Is that what we really want in our community?”