NCFY Reads: Kevin Ryan and Tina Kelley's 'Almost Home'

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Photograph of a young person wearing a hoodie.

“Almost Home: Helping Kids Move From Homelessness to Hope”
by Kevin Ryan and Tina Kelley, with foreword by Cory Booker

The president of an international organization for homeless youth teams up with a New York Times reporter to tell the stories of young people who overcame homelessness. We think you’ll want to recommend this book to people you know.

Four years and eleven stays at a shelter for homeless teens. That’s how long it took for the teenaged Paulie to escape family abuse, drugs and homelessness and to follow his own path in kickboxing and restaurant work.

The ups and downs of Paulie’s story will be no surprise to those who work with homeless youth day in and day out. But people unfamiliar with youth homelessness may not understand the persistence it takes—on the part of youth and of the adults who help them—to find stability and leave a traumatic history behind.

“Almost Home” tells that story over and over again with honesty, heart and hope. Authors Kevin Ryan and Tina Kelley have the pedigree to do that. Ryan is president of Covenant House International, a large nonprofit that serves homeless and sexually exploited youth in the United States and Canada. Kelley shared a Pulitzer Prize for the New York Times’ coverage of the September 11 attacks.

The authors interweave the stories of six young people who used Covenant House services with straight talk about the issues that contribute to and exacerbate youth homelessness—and solutions that could end the problem.

In addition to Paulie, there is Muriel, a young woman ensnared by a pimp. Benjamin spent his teen years shuffling through foster homes, psychiatric hospitals and shelters. Creionna is a teen mom bent on giving her son a better life. Keith was abandoned by the mother who killed his father. And Meagan’s grandmother kicked her out for being gay.

Labor of Love

Ryan and Kelley know that, no matter how resilient they are, young people don’t overcome adversity on their own. Every young person’s tale features a cast of supporting characters—the staff members and volunteers who offered patience and love and a helping hand. If you work with homeless youth and have struggled to explain to friends, families and community members what your days are like, Ryan and Kelley sum it up:

Imagine being a residential adviser in a college dorm, struggling to bring order to a crowd of sleep-deprived, hormone-addled, and opinionated young people living away from home, some for the first time. Then subtract most of the high school diplomas and stable family histories, and add trauma to the mix and varying degrees of loneliness, anxiety, and stress. Then put everyone in crisis, perhaps with fresh wounds from fights with family or friends or pimps or recent abandonment by foster care. Add a handful of mental illnesses and addictions, the panic of having no permanent address, and try to make sure everyone gets along enough and keeps quiet enough so that the others can rest. The goal is to do all of this with unconditional love and absolute respect. The work can take its toll.

The authors never let the hard truths they describe take a toll on the reader. They include solutions for every problem they describe and concrete steps readers can take to help. They also profile efforts to change the system and the lives of young people. For anyone wondering how we can end youth homelessness, “Almost Home” makes a good start.

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