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I had the privilege of speaking with Michelle Clausius, who works with homeless youth at Covenant House, a non-profit organization that provides security, comfort, and crisis intervention for homeless youth. Covenant House encourages their youth to express themselves through art.

5 Questions for Covenant House

SOS: What is your specific position at Covenant House?

M.C.: Associate Director, Development and Communications

SOS: Do you think homeless youth are more at risk for mental illness that the average young adult? Why or why not?

M.C.: Yes, homeless young people have several factors that increase their risk of mental illness. They are:

– Childhood physical and/or sexual abuse and neglect

– Foster care placement (over half our youth have been in foster care)

– Failure to attach (many of our youth never had meaningful and loving attachments when they were children)

– They are homeless [and thus] more at risk for re-victimization while on the streets

SOS: Do you think that art helps the youth in your program express themselves?

M.C.: Yes, art whether it be photography, illustrations, or writing gives the youth a voice but with the comfort of not always having to express themselves vocally – their art represents them in a way that they may either not be able or want to articulate themselves.

SOS: Without giving away any names or identities, can you think of any specific young adult who found art to be exceptionally therapeutic? What was his/her experience with art?

M.C.: It was therapeutic for the young woman who created the comic that is on our blog.  The therapeutic value works like this:  writing about their mental illness normalizes it in a way, therefore lessening the stigma or shame they may feel about their mental illness.

SOS: And finally, what is the #1 reason that you do what you do?

M.C.: I love telling the stories of our young people – the more people learn about our youth and their struggles, the more likely they are to support our work.

Michelle, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with SOS about the important work that Covenant House does, and the role that art plays in helping homeless youth express themselves!

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