By Jena Ardell
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The city's Youth and Community Development department says it has received no formal allegations of abuse at Covenant House and has never substantiated informal complaints. But the shelter has a bad reputation among LGBT youth like Misty Murray.
Many who work at Covenant House feel a genuine moral drive to help people, says longtime critic and LGBT youth activist Steve Ashkinazy, "but they bring with them their very strong beliefs on what a young person's conduct should be, and that includes sexual orientation." Those beliefs then play out in delicate issues like where to have transgender people sleep. Also tricky for a Catholic group is the issue of condoms for a population at high risk for HIV. (The current complaints aren't related to the allegations of sexual misconduct that forced Covenant House's founder, Reverend Bruce Ritter, to resign from it in 1990.)
Covenant House declined an interview request and issued a statement by spokeswoman Suzi Halpin: "We serve all youth who come to us in need, regardless of religion, financial status, sexual orientation, or race. We do not discriminate and do not tolerate discrimination of any kind."
For Charlene, who went back to the streets for a while, and Rebecca, who returned to prostitution, their experience at Covenant House was just another in a string of hard knocks. "These are really traumatized kids," Ali Forney director Siciliano says. "They need to be treated in a certain way, and if you do and you're effective they can respond and thrive."