By Howard Hwang, 14, Marshall HS
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After a visit to Covenant House, a shelter for homeless youth, the logo of a bird on a hand took on a special meaning for Howard.

Whenever I think of homeless teens, I think of gang bangers and druggies. People like that wear baggy jeans, bandanas and big shirts. They walk and talk like people who just came out of jail.

These thoughts were in my head when I went to Covenant House, a shelter for homeless people ages 18-21 in a sketchy Hollywood neighborhood. The place is surrounded by old abandoned buildings on a junky street.

But Covenant House seems like a beam of hope on a hopeless street. It’s painted with bright red and yellow colors. A sign on top of the building shows a hand holding a bird. It reminded me of Noah’s Ark at first and how Noah saved the creatures from the flood. I think Covenant House is a modern Noah’s Ark that saves teens from their pasts.

When I first entered Covenant House, I went through an electronically locked door plus a metal detector. A security guard sat at the front desk and checked out TV screens, which were actually views from security cameras surrounding the shelter. It seemed more like a jail than a home.

I tried not to be distracted with thoughts like that, because I was there to cover a story about a candlelight vigil held in honor of all teens who have died on the streets. So I headed to the courtyard, where the vigil took place. White folding chairs lined the concrete ground. Balloons decorated a stage. A handwritten sign hung under the balloons and read "There is still hope." It all looked so cheerful, like a rally inside a school gymnasium.

People started milling around. Many were adults, but I wanted to see people my own age and do my first interview.

Tieshi’s story hit me hard

That’s when I met Tieshi Thompson, 20. She was easy to talk to and had a lot to say. When she was a little girl, her parents were into drugs so much that they stopped taking care of their family. Tieshi and her three siblings tried to live by themselves and acted like their own family. Tieshi played the mother role. She stayed out of school until she was 7, because she was raising her younger siblings. Soon though, that secret was out and Tieshi and her siblings entered the foster care system. She was bounced around from home to home. Later, she just tried to live by herself. That led her to live on the streets. She said she stole cars and sold drugs.

But one day at school, Tieshi broke down and cried. She was at the end of her rope. She was tired of not having a home and always having to fend for herself. She really needed her parents, but who knew where they were. Luckily, teachers at her school helped her find Covenant House. She moved in that day.

"I know how it feels to not be loved, even by yourself. Stabilize your life and never think to go the wrong way like prostitution or drug selling. Trust me, everyone has a future. And you are the one who decides how it’s going to be," Tieshi said.

Tieshi was cool. "Maybe," I thought to myself, "this place wasn’t filled with just gang bangers after all."
Tari Skye, 18, sat in front of me. She turned around and we started talking.

"I’ve been in the system since I was 2. Now I’m 18 and still in it," Tari said. Her mom is the only person she has in this world, but her mom was an alcoholic and is now dying from liver problems. She’s 37. Tari said her mom’s liver looks all puffed out.

Tari also battled problems with alcohol and drugs before she came to Covenant House. She looks back on those days and says it’s all in the past.

"I’ve become a better person since then," Tari said. "I don’t want to go through any of that again."

But there’s more to Tari besides her problems. She likes to dance, rap and write. She has so many talents and I hope her past doesn’t get in the way of all that.

How could their parents abandon them?

I sat down and looked at my notes. It was hard to believe what I was hearing. I don’t know anyone who has parents on drugs or who abandon their families. Parents are supposed to take care of their kids. That’s their job. These teens, all of them, had such rough starts. It doesn’t seem fair. Some never had a place to call home. Others didn’t even have parents. It made me think a lot about my home life. I’ve never had to worry about having food or a place to sleep.

One time I did run away—for three hours. I was mad at my mom and hung out at the arcade the whole time. But I only had $3 in my pocket and blew through that really fast. So I went home.

It blows my mind that parents can throw their children out. I wonder if their parents miss them.

All these thoughts ran through my head when the candlelight vigil headed for the streets. We marched up and down Western Avenue to make others aware of homeless teens living on the streets. I looked up again at the sign of the hand holding the bird and thought more about it. I think it represents trust, because a wild bird would never sit in someone’s hand without feeling safe.

Covenant House isn’t filled with gang bangers and druggies. They’re people like me. But they’re also people who are learning to trust. People who are trying to fix their pasts. The teens here just need help becoming adults —they got lost along the way.