Former homeless teen now pays it forward to help other at-risk youth

The 18-year-old is now helping others struggling with the same situation.

November 17, 2021, 8:45 AM

At 18 years old, Naketa Younge's life turned upside down. Facing housing insecurity and with only $130 in her pocket, she credits Covenant House as her safety net.

"It was a very low point for me," Younge, now 30, told "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts. "It was a transitional time where I didn't know which way to go."

Thanks to advice of a friend, she discovered Covenant House New York, a nonprofit serving youth who are experiencing homelessness. She was offered shelter and resources to help her get back on her own feet.

"One of the most important thing they asked was like, 'Do you have anywhere to go?'" Younge said. "And once I was like, 'Honestly, no.' They was like, 'Well, that's the first step. You have somewhere to be now.'"

Covenant House supports people ages 16 to 24 and provides 24/7 supportive services, including mental health counseling, medical services and food to those in need. The organization opened its doors in 1972 in New York City and now has locations in 31 cities and six countries to help young people on their path to independence.

"Being at that pivotal age, it's hard, you know, because you're not a kid anymore, but you're not fully an adult," Younge said. "It's a good place to start to build a firm ground and foundation for yourself."

Thanks to the support she received at Covenant House, Younge said she was able to pursue her ambitions and earned her masters in mental health counseling from Long Island University. She now pays it forward working to help at-risk youth.

Naketa Younge went from homeless to a path of independence thanks to the support she received from Covenant House.
Courtesy Naketa Younge

"Don't be afraid to ask for help," Younge said. "People are here to help you. Nobody could do it on their own. No one. And that's all you need to remember because all it takes is just asking for help."

Just this month, Covenant House New York opened a new purpose-built building to welcome 120 young people home. It's the first time in their nearly 50-year history that something has been built keeping the residents in mind.

"We have a federally qualified health center on the first floor, we have mental health [services] on the fourth floor," said Executive Director Sister Nancy Downing, adding that they focus mainly on education and workforce development. "We try to wrap everything around here that they could possibly need, to help them to get stable in their lives so that they can go out and live a good, rich life."

As part of Covenant House's annual efforts to raise awareness and funds to support youth experiencing homelessness, their annual Sleep Out event is happening virtually and across 17 different Covenant House locations on Nov. 18.

For Younge, despite facing an incredibly difficult situation, she said she is grateful for the experience and is thankful to Covenant House for building that bridge to help her reach her dreams.

"Sometimes when you look at something that may be like, the worst time in your life," Younge said, "you look back now and it was, like, that actually ended up being the best part."

Naketa Younge poses for a photo with ABC's Robin Roberts. Younge went from homeless to a path of independence thanks to the support she received from Covenant House.
Elena George/ABC News