Youth drop-in center HQ evolves with commitments to local partnerships and expansion of services

HQ is a drop-in center for youth who don’t have a safe place to call home, are sleeping outside, or just need a safe place to connect with caring adults. This center is a free resource for youth ages 14 to 24 in housing crisis.

HQ partners with The Wisdom Center Counseling ServicesHealth Net of West Michigan, and Grand Valley Family Health Center to constantly improve their services and meet the health and wellness needs of local youth in crisis.

The drop-in center’s most recent improvement to its services was launching its Comprehensive Health Initiative in the fall of 2019. This initiative provides basic healthcare navigation and access, healing-centered therapy, and holistic wellness activities.

Part of HQ’s growth lies in the specificity of the population served. “We are quite firm on our age range. We hold this range to protect the youth we work with,” says Alyssa Anten, drop-in coordinator at HQ. Although the nonprofit provides an age range, no one is turned away, and the staff at HQ will help anyone in crisis get the resources they need. “We would never turn anyone away without helping them find the resources that would support them. We would point them in the right direction for their needs,” says Anten.

According to Shandra Steininger, cofounder and executive director of HQ, when someone under the age of 14 comes to HQ, the staff works quickly to connect them with someone at The Bridge of Arbor Circle, which serves 10 to 17-year-old youth. The Bridge focuses on family support and reunification.

“We believe [The Bridge] are better equipped to support the needs of very young youth. If someone over the age of 24 comes to HQ we can provide some basic referrals to other supports, but due to the safety of members, we cannot allow them to drop in,” says Steininger.

HQ has strict policies in place to help protect its members. The staff will not provide information on members who are using the services and will not inform anyone if they are currently at HQ. “Unless the police have a warrant, HQ does not confirm nor deny whether or not anyone is in HQ in order to protect member’s safety,” says Anten.

HQ provides several resources to youth including laundry, warm meals, and showers. The drop-in center also provides a safe place to nap and catch up on sleep. However, HQ is not a shelter and does not allow overnight stays. At HQ, youth are allowed to use the drop-in center in two-hour blocks at a time or by a personal appointment.

“They provide you with a place to feel safe for a few minutes or a few hours,” says an anonymous HQ member.

“We have great relationships with local shelters, and we are developing these partnerships so youth can have access to the resources they need. We work with Mel TrotterDegage, and Safe Haven,” says Anten.

For the Comprehensive Health Initiative, HQ has also been working with 3:11 Youth Housing to provide health-related social needs services that are low-barrier and have non-traditional hours and access points, as well as a culturally diverse team of providers coordinated by Youth Advocates.

These Youth Advocates will work with HQ and 3:11 to help youth navigate the healthcare system and point them in the right direction for their healthcare needs.

HQ has brought in several community partners like nurses, dentists, and therapists to provide health and wellness services to the youth at HQ. “We have wellness activities like yoga and taekwondo. We even had a barber come in to do hair,” says Anten.

The drop-in center is constantly working to improve their services so they can better help the youth in need.

“We strive to stay flexible and nimble to the changing needs of youth and the community. For example, we recently expanded our kitchen so that we could partner with God’s Kitchen and provide better means. Change and growth is a norm at HQ!” says Steininger.

“One of the most accessed supports at HQ is our vital document recovery,” she adds. “So many youth just do not have an ID or have never held their birth certificate or social security card … all of which are required to get a job, apply for school or an apartment.”

Once members have all of their necessary documents, many of them work with HQ to find employment. “It’s often not super difficult for youth to gain employment. The barriers we do run into once they’ve gained employment is keeping employment,” says Anten. Many of the youth working with HQ to obtain employment run into problems. “Sometimes they lack reliable transportation, or they lack the motivation to show up on time or show up at all.”

“The problem we run into with employment is work culture and navigating relationships with coworkers or a boss who isn’t understanding of a person’s life circumstances,” adds Anten. “A youth in crisis, they don’t have the same emotional regulation as you and me and we coach them on how to advocate for themselves on how to have conversations with coworkers and their bosses in order to maintain employment.”

HQ also provides resources for youth to continue their education, whether it be obtaining a GED or a college degree. “We do have a lot of youth who are ready to get their GED or start taking classes at community college. The biggest barrier is having reliable transportation, having a safe place to stay and study, and having access to resources like paper, pencils, and computers,” says Anten. “We have a whole computer lab for youths to use and we constantly have school supplies on hand.”

Although HQ provides many helpful services for its members, the staff are at the core of the nonprofit’s mission to provide safe and welcoming spaces for youth in housing crisis. “The best way that I can impact a youth is just show them that they can be ‘you.’ Once they feel comfortable, we can actually start showing them support and care and that allows them to engage in the services,” says Anten.

“We are experts at creating a safe and affirming space where youth want to come, meet their basic needs and begin to open up and trust again,” says Steininger. “Through this process, we are often able to help them navigate a complex system of support that moves them from crisis to stable.”

Since its inception as a small nonprofit with just one full-time staff member, HQ has expanded to a fully serviced organization run by 10 employees and over 100 volunteers and serves over 400 unique youth in any 12-month span. Dedicated to better serving this population with each encounter, HQ continues to grow and evolve. “Committing to change and growth is something we are consistently working on,” says Anten.