Covenant House

Covenant House International
Founded New York City, U.S. (1972)
Type Non-profit
Services Food, shelter and a variety of services to homeless youth between the ages of 14 and 20
Key people
Kevin Ryan, Sister Mary Rose McGeady, Father Bruce Ritter

Covenant House is the largest privately funded agency in the Americas providing shelter, food, immediate crisis care, and an array of other services to homeless and runaway youth. In addition to basic needs, Covenant House provides care to homeless youth aged 14–20 (certain locations care for youth as young as 13 & adults as old as 24), designed to transition them into an independent adulthood free from the risk of future homelessness. Covenant House offers services including healthcare, educational support/GED preparation/college scholarships, job readiness and skills training programs, drug abuse treatment and prevention programs, legal services, mental health services, mother/child programs, transitional living programs, street outreach and aftercare.


In the late 1960s, the Reverend Bruce Ritter, a Franciscan priest, stepped down from his post as a tenured professor at Manhattan College to begin a new ministry serving the city's poor. Joined by colleague Father James Fitzgibbon, he moved into a dilapidated tenement building in New York City's East Village, and along with a handful of friends, former students, and neighbors began an effort to help homeless and runaway youth. By 1970, Father Fitzgibbon had moved on to devote more time to drug counseling and other community ministries, but Father Ritter remained. Adrian Gately, Patricia Kennedy, and Paul Frazier joined him to create the Covenant Community. In 1972, Covenant House was officially incorporated with its first intake center established at 504 LaGuardia Place.

Now an established non-profit, Covenant House began to fundraise, using the monies to shelter homeless kids in Lower Manhattan and on Staten Island. In 1976, Father Ritter announced plans to create a multi-service center near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Covenant House then acquired a group of buildings on West 44th Street and moved its administrative offices to the new location.

Throughout the late 1970s, Covenant House continued to expand its social-service programs in New York City and began to branch out to other cities in 1980. For the next two decades, Covenant House grew under the leadership of Sister Mary Rose McGeady (1990–2003) and Sister Tricia Cruise (2003–2008), opening crisis centers in 21 more cities in the United States, Central America, and Canada.[1]


In February 1990, Covenant House founder and President Father Ritter was forced to step down in the wake of allegations of sexual and financial misconduct, beginning with the accusations of Kevin Kite. Soon after, more accusations surfaced, as four more men came forward claiming to have been sexually involved with Father Ritter. Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau began looking into possible financial improprieties or the use of false documentation by Covenant House officials.[2] The Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced that it was ending its investigation of Father Ritter's alleged financial misconduct and would not file criminal charges, on the day after his resignation.[3]

Covenant House’s board of directors immediately commissioned an independent investigation conducted by private investigative firm Kroll Associates, and one of the top law firms in the country, Cravath, Swaine & Moore. After a five-month investigation, 150 interviews, and the poring over of thousands of pages of documents, their report noted that on the subject of sexual misconduct, “none of the allegations, when viewed individually, can be proved beyond any question.” Nonetheless, the report confirmed, the “cumulative” evidence against Father Ritter was “extensive.”[4]

Their report also cited a number of minor financial irregularities, but added that fundraising was professionally and efficiently managed.[5] Sister Mary Rose McGeady, then associate director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Brooklyn, became President of Covenant House, instituting both financial and program-related reforms.[6]


Covenant House currently operates shelters in the United States in:[7]

and, outside the United States:[7]


Covenant House Institute

Covenant House has created a research institute to provide research and public education about all aspects of the homeless youth population. The institute also aims to call attention to and address issues that affect homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth, train leaders in the social service field, and train the youth that Covenant House serves in advocacy techniques.

The Institute produces an annotated bibliography yearly, which is a compiled list of resources available to researchers on the topics of youth homelessness and foster care issues.[8]


Covenant House formerly operated a free, confidential crisis hotline that operates 365 days a year, 4 PM to 8 PM Eastern Standard Time. Unfortunately, the NINELINE is currently unavailable [9]

The toll-free telephone number was (800) 999-9999 (thus, it earned the nickname "the Nineline"). Covenant House previously ran commercials on radio and TV telling people in need of its services to "call 1-800 and then just keep pressing 9".

The National Runaway Safeline (NRS) is available at 1-800-RUNAWAY to assist at-risk youth and their families. Its mission is to help keep America’s runaway, homeless and at-risk youth safe and off the streets. Volunteer staff provide solution-based support and have access to a resource database of over 30,000 agencies and programs.[10]


Despite having a Board of Directors, Covenant House's public face has tended to be its presidents. Father Bruce Ritter founded Covenant House and served as President from 1972 to his resignation in 1990. He was succeeded by Sister Mary Rose McGeady, DC, who served from 1990 to 2003. In 2003 the Board of Directors elected Sister Patricia A. Cruise, S.C., effective 1 September 2003. In addition to their administrative duties, the presidents of Covenant House have been known for their fundraising letters telling the stories of the kids Covenant House serves, some of which have been collected into books. Sr. Patricia A. Cruise resigned her position as President of Covenant House International Headquarters in 2008. Kevin Ryan, formerly the Child Advocate of New Jersey, became President in 2009.

See also



Further reading

  • Ritter, Fr. Bruce (1988). SOMETIMES GOD HAS A KID'S FACE: The story of America's exploited street kids - Letters from Covenant House. Covenant House. A selection of letters taken directly from Covenant House: Lifeline to the Street, published in 1987 by Doubleday.
  • Wosh, Peter (2005). Covenant House. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-3831-1. 
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