So far this Summer several of our youth crossed into the sunnier stretch of their path out of homelessness. We saw two long-awaited smiles these past few weeks. First, Colby grinning ear to ear as he got off the phone with his boss. Then he told us it was time to collect his first paycheck. During the past two weeks, all Colby talked about was how well things were going at his new job, how he liked the quietness of the closing shift. Later that week, Kevin got into an apartment of his own. As he “shopped” the apartment supply room for necessities for his new place and walked with his arms full, he was beaming with joy and looked much the way Colby did as he raced off to cash that paycheck.
In every sense, Colby and Kevin have come a long way. Part of the reason these young men have been with Stepping Stones for so long is because they have spent a lot of time being transient, moving between towns and cities in pursuit of change. Even though their immediate needs of food, clothing, showers, and laundry were satisfied at our drop-in center, they had no such guarantee for shelter. These young men sat down and planned out their goals for housing, education, and employment, but the cruel reality of those application timelines offered no comfort on cold nights outside. So, when a buddy got an apartment in Manchester and offered Kevin a spot on the couch, Manchester became his new home. When Shaun’s friend got him a job in a field he loves in Derry, off he went. Colby, too, has moved in and out of Nashua many times in search of better opportunities. Though people who have mortgages and careers might find the whole idea stressful, the decision to pack up and move to another part of the state or country is perfectly reasonable to our youth once they have the tiniest inkling that somewhere else might produce different results.
But that wish of opportunity rarely comes true. In the bright light of these new settings, they forget that couch surfing is still homelessness. Though they are in a different place, the same harsh rules apply: that a job is not the same as a place to stay
and that one will not go well without the other. These young men have come back to us time and again, and every time they have little to report but a dashed dream. In their time away, letters and calls came in for them to continue the process of obtaining resources. With no way to get in touch with them, that progress was put on hold. Once they get caught up on their messages, they discover missed deadlines and appointments. For them, coming back feels like a retreat back to square one.
It is easy to sympathize with them for feeling this way, but the truth is that every day spent here is a forward march, even if they took a few stumbles along the way. Every time they check-in with a caring staff member or volunteer prepares them for their next step; every dollar saved using our hot water or eating in instead of out inches them closer to a stable bank account. It was when Kevin came back from his most recent stint in Manchester that he was able to sit with us and complete the work he needed to get his lease. Now Colby sees steady hours and pay because he is putting in the same consistency with his time here in Nashua. Our work at Stepping Stones is built right into the name above the door; every time our youth take advantage of our services, they move one step forward towards a life of stability.