Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

New community center opens for homeless teens

Photo by Emily Cole

“People are shocked to hear that there are 200 homeless youth on any given night in Grand Rapids,” says Dan Scott, graduate school intern at the newly opened homeless teen drop-in center, HQ, located at 320 State Street.

The shelter was established by Mars Hill Church and opened in December 2014 as a community center for homeless teens to feel welcome and gain access to resources to assist them in school, vocational and housing transitions.

“There’s a lack of knowledge on this topic and an assumption that the issue doesn’t exist,” Scott said. “But the shock is moving many to action.”

According to the number and responses of visitors, the organization has tapped into a need in the community. Since its opening in December, the center has hosted as many as 36 youths on one day, and word-of-mouth advertising is increasing that number weekly.

The space boasts a high ceiling, open floor plan with modular furniture, a cafe area adjacent to the kitchen and a state-of-the-art computer lab and living room area.

The philosophy behind the design of the center is to welcome and value its guests. “Due to a lack of resources, many social service organizations are housed in sterile buildings that can feel unwelcoming,” Scott explained. “This can stigmatize the people who come in. Because our center is entirely voluntary to come to, if we want youth to be interested in what we have to offer, we have to offer something to them, and for us a lot of that is having a nice space.”

HQ was started by Mars Hill, but the organization of the non-profit is unique: it’s a blended partnership of church, social services provider and non-profit.

Mars Hill’s mode of operation is to father projects and move them into independence. HQ is already an independent non-profit, though Mars Hill plans to provide full funding for five years and continually provide administrative and IT staff. A few board members of the organization are members of the church, though none of the staff are.

HQ is neither a residential facility nor a case-management service provider because there are already organizations in the community that do that. Rather, Scott says they hope to connect with youth on a relational level and give space for two organizations in their building, Arbor Circle and Network 180.

Many homeless youth stay at Mel Trotter, and many others are “precariously housed,” meaning they may live at home but do not feel safe at their house due to physical or sexual abuse, family conflict, poverty or the substance abuse of a family member.

“Often people don’t show up for their meetings with social workers,” Scott said. “But if youth have a place they feel welcome in, they’re more likely to follow through on their commitments.”

For many teens in Grand Rapids, the reality of life on the streets is a daily struggle, especially for LGBT teens who face unique challenges in dealing with homelessness. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT.

“Homeless youth are survivors, and they can survive without any eyes turned to them, so the number we have is a lot lower than the actual amount,” Scott explained. “LGBT teens have another level of secrecy in their lives. They often find themselves homeless because of family rejection or community stigma. They stay quiet about their lack of housing as well as their sexual orientation. That’s a problem when you don’t have anyone to talk to about it, can’t be yourself and can’t seek help because you’re afraid to.”

In an effort to give LGBT teens a voice, Network 180 is collaborating with HQ to host support group meetings for these teens each month.

“Amidst the toughness of the streets, the resilience of the teens that come into HQ is astounding,” says Scott. “Teens have shown leadership potential and many are taking steps to turn their life around. For example, one teen planned a Poetry Slam happening on February 13 that is open to the community.”

The organization is young, and programs are just beginning to materialize. Looking to the future, HQ hopes to provide longer open hours for its clients and offer a specific day each week for parenting teens to enjoy the services HQ offers without worrying about childcare. They are also planning to start up a mentoring and tutoring program for its clients.

HQ is an open, fluid environment with wide flexibility in their programming. “We would love to have volunteers share their passions with teens in a mentoring setting or by just hanging out with them at HQ,” Scott said. Those who would like to learn more about the organization or get connected through volunteering can contact Dan Scott at [email protected].

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