When the first drop-in center for runaway and homeless teenagers in Grand Rapids holds its first public open house on Nov. 14, director of the new HQ Shandra Steininger says there is one, prevailing message they hope they can convey to any homeless youth that might pass through its doors.
"It's a space where any young person 14-22 can walk in the door and feel like, 'I'm accepted exactly as I am, regardless of what I've been through or how I self-identify or what I need, I can just be, and let the dust settle in my life for a minute.'"
HQ is the brainchild of Steininger and Mars Hill Bible Church
's Director of Mobilization Andy Soper, whom she connected with while working as supervisor for Arbor Circle
's community shelter for homeless youth
On weekdays from 3-6 p.m., HQ is open with the express purpose of helping young people 14-22 connect with the basics and beyond. From housing options and trauma counseling to education and employment, HQ operates around a philosophy that puts a twist on the "three R's": rest, resources and readiness.
"Resources" refer to the basic needs, like meals and showers, or counseling and therapy through HQ partner Arbor Circle, while "readiness" focuses on GED attainment and job skills.
And though the trio's first component, rest, may seem the most trivial, Steininger says the lack of a no-strings-attached physical space can sometimes be the biggest barrier of all for youth struggling with (or in the thick of) homelessness.
Steininger says while she and Soper were still developing the concept for HQ, they went around the country to cities like Seattle and Minneapolis to visit the best drop-in centers and talked to youth living on the streets, both there and at home in Grand Rapids, to better understand what factors create barriers and how they could be as accessible as possible to youth in need.
"There was really a desire to have a place that was just safe, where social workers and people wouldn't make them deal with a three-hour assessment or have this whole list of requirements or things they had to do before they could just get something to eat," she says. "The paperwork and assessments and all of those things can be so overwhelming. Sometimes you just need to talk and need somebody to listen."
The other most difficult part of addressing homeless youth in Grand Rapids is educating the public about the presence of an issue that, in a lot of cases, has no, real physical presence and that crosses more socioeconomic and racial lines than most people think.
"There's something kind of unique about West Michigan where you just don't see teenagers and younger kids under the bridge or on the corner with a sign," she says. "It is much more hidden. It truly is young people couch surfing or jumping around, or wanting to fit in with or look just like their peers, attend school just like their peers and doing all of that with the fear in the back of their minds saying, 'Where am I going to sleep tonight and is it going to be safe? What am going to have to do or give up in order to have a roof over my head tonight?'"
Nearly 75 volunteers came to help HQ organizers gut the single-story, 93-year-old building at 320 State St. SE until it was just a 5,760-square-foot rectangle ripe for redesign by Pinnacle Construction Group. http://www.askourclients.com/
HQ's drop-in center open house
will run from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 14. To learn more about the open house, the square-foot fundraising campaign
or any other programming, visit HQ on Facebook
Written by Anya Zentmeyer, Development News Editor
Images Courtesy of HQ