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  • Writer's pictureZach Paone

The Drop: One Year Later

It’s Cold Outside and the Shelters Are Full. Just like last autumn. But this year is different: there is now transitional housing for homeless youth in Greater Nashua; however, transitional housing can only do so much. Check out this update to last year’s blog, “The Drop” to learn more about why drop-in centers still are the ideal gateway for homeless youth to access services.

It’s that time of year. Again.

The temperatures are dropping, so sleeping outside is not an option. Or at least, it shouldn’t be an option. And yet, some homeless youth still spend their night outside, camping as they call it. It’s nothing like the camping some of us did this summer.

Every morning, Kathy and Rebecca check the availability of beds at local shelters, knowing at least one youth will come that day asking about the night ahead. Usually, they are full. When there is a bed available, there is no time to waste.

Lately, the teenagers and young adults coming to Stepping Stones embody the frantic energy of this turn in the season. Fourteen new youth came to the drop-in center in September, the early winds of autumn at their backs. Last autumn saw record turn-out, too, but by about half compared to this year. What changed? The addition of transitional housing. It’s only a few days into October and the waitlist for beds at Step Up is starting to grow.

Those who are in transitional housing already are more motivated than ever to stay on top of their goals, having already reaped the benefits of a summer’s hard work finding jobs,starting school, and stepping up. Their progress begets livelihood for others, too; as more youth graduate to Step Two, more transitional housing beds become available in the first level. In September, Maya, Ezra, Caden, Jagger, Laurel, Mila, and Nora were welcomed into Step Up, and though we celebrate them for making this decision, I’d be remiss not to mention their peers, Leo, Riley, Jonah, Jasper, and Jett, who moved up this summer and made space for new faces to start their journey to self-sufficiency.

Though we are immensely grateful to be able to offer transitional housing, it does not change the fact that not every young person is ready to take that step. Some know right away that it isn’t for them, whereas others try it for a week or two, then drop out. Their story does not end there, though–they still need a place to stay, and in some cases, the time they spend outside of Step Up can be just as valuable for their development. Everly, for instance, struggled to meet the minimum requirements for Step Up’s first level. Getting her chores done, respecting curfew, and following simple instructions proved too big of a step for her, because she hadn’t yet addressed her substance abuse. After leaving Step Up, Everly spent a few summer nights outside with friends, then wound up back at the drop-in center drenched from the rain and covered in bug bites. She asked for a tent, and shortly after, for a referral to an in-patient recovery center.

Just a few days ago, Everly came into Stepping Stones to celebrate her birthday. I’m not sure exactly what she wished for when she blew out her candles, but I’m happy to report that one of her dreams for her future has already come true: she spent her nineteenth birthday sober. Later that day, she shared her next goal: joining Step Up again once her time in treatment is over. This time she has a renewed purpose to work hard, so her transitional home can prepare her for her forever home.

We are so glad that Everly is nearly ready to re-enter Step Up, and it could not be at a better time, as the nights are colder and colder by the day. Everly was not at Stepping Stones last autumn, but her story absolutely would fit right in with the kids who were with us last autumn, dreaming of the day Stepping Stones could offer them a place to sleep at night.

Take a look back with us at the blog from last October, “The Drop: Why Drop-in Centers Matter” to see how they felt last year. Nearly everything in this blog still rings true today–after all, no matter how chilly or warm, the drop-in center is open to all homeless young people in need of a fresh start. Even though we now have transitional housing to keep some of them warm, there are still more waiting in the wings, dreaming of the day when we can offer emergency shelter, too.

The Drop: Why Drop-in Centers Matter

Originally published October 1st, 2022

The temperature drop is upon us and unsurprisingly, more young people who are homeless and alone have been trying to fix their situation. They are working hard to apply for jobs and glance nervously at the calendar as they check in on their housing status. Every day, Stella holds her breath waiting for the call that says her application has been approved.

The drop has also brought new faces into Stepping Stones. Over the course of just two days this past week, three new young people made their first visit to the drop-in center. They came separately–one from his friend’s couch, the other from a shelter, the third from a tent outside, and from different towns, too–most people think Stepping Stones is only open to Nashua residents, but we actually serve many of the smaller towns in the area, such as Amherst, Brookline, Hollis, Hudson, Litchfield, Lyndeborough, Mason, Merrimack, Milford, Mont Vernon, Pelham and Wilton. They need different things and each have their own story.

In many ways, the only thing they really have in common is that they are homeless and need help. Luckily for them, that is all it takes to belong at Stepping Stones.

Agencies like Stepping Stones are called drop-in centers because those in need can stop in without an appointment to receive on-demand service–food, showers, clothing, laundry machine, resources, and a place to receive mail and store belongings. Drop-in centers do not provide overnight shelter (though we hope to someday in the near future!), but they have clean, warm water, wireless internet, and comfortable spaces for young people to gather for enrichment, rest, and to work on their goals. We help them apply for housing and jobs, certificate programs, and all kinds of resources designed to support them become self-sufficient adults.

When a homeless young person first comes into Stepping Stones they know they need housing, but the path to get there feels insurmountable. They know that even their peers with jobs and supportive families struggle to get their first place, so imagine how discouraged they feel when they have neither of those resources.

They are never wrong to keep their eyes set on the long-term goal of a place to live, but what they learn at the drop-in center is all of the other little steps they need to take before they can move in. Here they get guidance from knowledgeable, compassionate adults who always try to provide them with more than one possible solution to any problem, who know the steps to take and the people to call.

But the first step they all must take is finding a place where they can feel safe. Think about the last time you felt unsafe. Did you feel ready to plan your future? To make an important phone call? To attend a job interview or apply for college? We know that people cannot reach their best potential until they reach a state of peace and calm. If nothing else, Stepping Stones can offer them that. For many of them, the drop-in center is the first place where they have felt safe in many years, or in some cases, their whole life.

A young person who came to us recently was fleeing an exploitative situation where her housing was conditional on her having sex with the homeowner; despite being outside our service area, we took her in because there are no drop-in centers where she lived and she needed to be as far from her abuser as possible. Coordinating with her school district, we found her a safe place to stay at night. Stepping Stones is somewhere she can go to plan her next step.

Recent research has revealed that homeless young people associate drop-in centers with stronger positive outcomes (according to Chapin Hall, the leading think tank on homelessness and adversity in the U.S.). The young people who come to us are living proof of that. Those that have found housing and jobs credit Stepping Stones as their life-line, and the many others who are still working on those goals only began to see them as attainable after they started coming here. Their gratitude to Stepping Stones and its supporters is infectious, but they deserve some credit, too. After all, their path out of homelessness only began because of their brave decision to take a step through our doors.

That’s why when we say “We’re glad you dropped in,” we really mean it.

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