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Two Grand Rapids nonprofits combine to combat youth homelessness

"We see that in this time and in this environment that we sit that this merger is more essential than ever."

GRAND RAPIDS CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. — 3:11 Youth Housing and HQ Runaway & Homeless Youth Drop-In Center are merging to create one entity to support youth facing homelessness.

The organizations have had a close relationship for the past five years, partnering on events and initiatives.

"We’ve been talking about this on and off for years, and we’ve always talked about what was best for youth in this community," HQ Co-Founder and Executive Director,  Shandra Steininger said.

HQ Drop in Center and houses under 3:11 Youth Housing will keep their names as well as any programs currently being offered to youth. 

3:11 Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director, Lauren VanKeulen, said she hopes this will be an opportunity to expand the services that both organizations offer under one group.

"We know that HQ sees around 450 unduplicated youth every year, and 3:11 can house about 24 youth at a time, so by merging and becoming an organization that’s a little bit larger, we’re hoping that we’ll be able to add to our capacity of youth that we’ll be able to house," VanKeulen explained.

VanKeulen will take over the merged organization as CEO. Steininger is stepping away, but will help in contractual partnerships.

"I get to see my baby continue to grow and I know that this merged organization is going to have an incredible impact on this community," Steininger said.

A new name for the organization as a whole will be released in the coming months along with a new brand initiative.

"The merged group will also continue to be bold and affirming organization, so that all youth who receive services, connect with our staff will know that they are fully embraced with who they are for all parts of their identity, background, religious believes, that this is a place that will not just accept them but celebrate them," Steininger said.

Confirmation of the merge took place before the COVID-19 pandemic, and both leaders said recent events created even more need for homeless youth.

"We see that in this time and in this environment that we sit that this merger is more essential than ever," noting that 95% of youth in 3:11 housing lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Both HQ and 3:11 Youth Housing worked to provide basic needs, virtual support, grocery delivery and rent assistance during the pandemic.

VanKeulen also noted the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement fueling discussion of racial inequities in the in the housing and homeless community. 

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In a press release from VanKeulen, it's noted that approximately 80% of youth accessing drop-in at HQ and housing at 3:11 are people of color, yet they make up 41% of the population.

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VanKeulen said diversity and inclusion in staff is focus they will continue to keep going into the merge, which she said will likely open more employment opportunities to the community.

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