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The Drop: Why Drop-in Centers Matter

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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