In the Niki Alexander mystery series, Niki is a counselor for a teen shelter. In Houston we have Covenant House. As part of my research in 2007 when I was writing the first of the series, Less Dead, I visited the shelter and was taken on a tour by one of the counselors. I also knew some kids who spent a few days there. Covenant House became the model for Open Palms, the fictional shelter. More more information, I spent one evening interviewing kids at the street church across from the shelter. That evening was the inspiration for Lost Witness and much that I witnessed is included in the book.
Recently, Covenant House had open house with an invitation to take a tour. Naturally, I wanted to see if it had changed since my research in 2007. It had. I was amazed at the change.
The biggest change was the age group. Back 2007, young teens were allowed to stay there. Now the accepted age is 18-21. The reason for this, I was told, was to protect the younger kids from possible preditors who might sell them drugs or pimp them or use them sexually.
Young kids who find their way off the street to Covenant House are not turned away, however. They can be visited by a staff nurse, can take a shower, get some clothes, some food, and talk to a counselor. They are encouraged to call their parents and work out a solution so they can return home. Sometimes this isn’t possible because of severe abuse or neglect at home. In that case, CPA is called in and they are taken to another shelter for children.
Covenant House has counselors trained in drug abuse, anger management, sexual abuse. They have a nursing staff. The older teens can attend school, get their GED, learn a trade, write a resume and get recommended for jobs. Before they can do this, however, they will have to stay at the shelter for six months to get clean of drugs and go through counseling before they can go through the Rite of Passage and attend their college.
They don’t have a 100% success rate. Who does? These young people have had to struggle with abuse and/or neglect, have nowhere else to go. They are offered a chance. Some will succeed. Others will fail. But it offers hope and a life beyond what they had before.
Open Palms will continue in my Niki Alexander books that started with Less Dead and Lost Witness. I’m in the process of writing the third in the series. Open Palms will still open its arms to teens regardless of age and Niki will continue the fight to protect them, teach them skills and see that no harm comes to them.