Two Grand Rapids youth-focused nonprofits merging

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Board and staff members from both organizations gather at Connecting the Dots 2019. Courtesy 3:11 Youth Housing

A pair of nonprofit agencies with similar missions in Kent County are merging “to break the cycle of homelessness together.”

Grand Rapids-based 3:11 Youth Housing and HQ Runaway & Homeless Youth Drop-in Center said they are combining into one entity with a shared purpose “to provide circles of support for youth facing homelessness.”

The merger will take effect Wednesday. The nonprofits have not yet announced the combined entities’ new name.

“Housing insecurity is complex, and 3:11 and HQ have partnered for years to address its many dimensions,” said ​Lauren VanKeulen, founding co-executive director of 3:11. “As a unified organization, we can create a more connective, cohesive experience for youth on their journey toward housing and stability.”

VanKeulen will lead the new organization as its CEO with a leadership team that combines staff and board members from both founding organizations. In addition to “streamlining the experience” for the youths they serve, the combined team expects to increase the organizations’ reach and impact and develop opportunities for the future, including “new housing options and innovations in youth resources.”

Shandra Steininger, co-founder and executive director of HQ, will complete her service to the organization Tuesday, in order to relocate to Phoenix to be nearer to family. Steininger “played an active role in planning the merger” and will continue to be a resource to the new leadership team during this transition, the organizations said.

“The merger is the result of a months-long process of research, listening sessions and planning,” Steininger said. “The staff and board of 3:11 and HQ, as well as our members and 3:11 mentors, have been very thoughtful about what we’d like to see for the future. As I take the next step on my own personal journey, I do so with great confidence in this shared work.”

While the decision was made prior to COVID-19, the pandemic highlighted the disparities youth experiencing homelessness face in Kent County, especially those in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, the agencies said.

About 80% of youths accessing drop-in services at HQ and housing at 3:11 are people of color, yet they make up 41% of the population, according to the nonprofits. HQ and 3:11 have provided support to young people during the pandemic, from virtual meetings and teletherapy to grocery delivery and rent assistance. 

The merger is “even more essential now,” the nonprofits said, given the increased need to provide cohesive support and stability to young people during a global crisis.

Since 2012, 3:11 has provided housing to more than 50 young people ages 18 to 24. With support from mentors and housemates, participating youths build life skills and relationships. Ninety percent of participants go on to find stable housing, reach educational goals and secure full-time employment, according to 3:11.

HQ opened in 2014 to create a safe and affirming space for youths ages 14 to 24, to find rest, build relationships, and connect to vital resources while navigating instability or homelessness. In its six years of operation, HQ has served more​ than 1,400​ individuals.

More than 80 young people per night experience homelessness in Kent County each year, according to the community Point in Time Count, and the organizations said this is “grossly under-representative” of the actual number. 

“We envision a Grand Rapids community where every young person can count on strong relationships and stable housing as a foundation for their future,” VanKeulen said. “This organization is dedicated to this vision, and we have greater capacity than ever to help young people move from crisis to stability alongside our many great partners and supporters in this area.”

The merged organization will create circles of support for 14- to 24-year-olds facing homelessness or instability in the Grand Rapids area — from drop-in opportunities to rest, recharge and meet everyday needs in a caring community to safe, affordable housing with peers and mentors who partner in their transition to stability. 

Young people between the ages of 14 and 24 can learn more by contacting ​hqgr.org​, ​3-11.org​ or (616) 217-4113

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