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Covenant House sees influx of 'working poor'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This year, Covenant House served 60 percent more Charleston people in need than it did in 2011.

The organization's food pantry alone fed 7,500 people in 2012, and typically provides basic services to 40,000 people each year.

"If this continues, we'll probably feed more than 9,000 citizens. That's really quite amazing," said Covenant House Executive Director Ellen Allen, who took the position less than a year ago.

Allen says the increase in numbers is because of an influx of what she calls "the working poor."

"The face of the homeless isn't always what people have in mind. These are devastated families who never thought it would happen to them," she said. "Sometimes you have both parents working two jobs. It's the working poor -- the people right on the edge of poverty -- who are hit the hardest."

Covenant House has been offering a variety of services for people in need for more than 30 years, including a day shelter, a clothing closet and a number of housing and emergency assistance programs.

At the Drop In Center, people can take a shower, do their laundry, get help with official documents like a birth certificate or receive counseling and employment referrals.

"The day center is like our laboratory for our work. There's nowhere else like it in West Virginia, and not many places like it in the country," Allen said.

The umbrella organization also offers HIV prevention and support services and provides permanent housing for people with chronic mental illnesses and substance abuse issues.

A grant that's underway will allow for several additional housing units by next month, Allen said.

"The things we're doing are really impacting the homeless populations in the city. We're getting families into homes who a month ago were under a bridge or sleeping in their car in a downtown business parking lot," she said.

But Covenant House isn't dedicated only to helping supply resources to those in need. It's about advocacy, Allen said.

"We're promoting dialogue about what actually creates homelessness: racism, sexism, domestic violence, homophobia. People like to pretend these things don't exist, and that's why we exist," she said. "Social justice is our core. We want to give a voice to these people and educate the general public and decision makers."

For information about the Covenant House or to donate, visit www.wvcovenanthouse.org or call 304-344-8053.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5100.


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