Guidance for Homeless Youth Drop-In Centers

Guidance for Homeless Youth Drop-In Centers
Natasha Slesnick, Michael Glassman, Rikki Garren, Paula Toviessi, Denitza Bantchevska, and Pushpanjali Dashora
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Between 500,000 and 1.7 million youth are homeless each year. Since few communities have conducted a homeless count that specifically focused on youth, the rough estimate suggests a need for increased attention to the homeless youth population—to better understand the scope of the issue and address their needs. To assist local service providers in reaching homeless youth, a paper published in Children and Youth Services Review provides guidance about starting and maintaining a drop-in center for youth between the ages of 14 and 24. Drop-in centers provide a casual atmosphere in which youth can rest, shower, eat, and ultimately build trust that may lead to deeper engagement and reintegration in mainstream social systems.

The guidance, which spans funding, location, rules, and staffing, draws from the authors' experiences with drop-in centers in two states.

Major findings:

  • Drop-in centers can facilitate change in the lives of homeless youth by developing a genuine relationship of trust between youth and a drop-in center worker.
  • Homeless youth have multiple needs that benefit from wraparound services from multiple agencies coordinated into a single plan of care.
  • Drop-in centers need a strong funding strategy that reduces competition for local sources. Funding is typically the centers’ biggest challenge.
  • To reach homeless youth, a center’s location needs to be both socially acceptable (i.e., youth will not feel like outsiders in the neighborhood) and physically accessible through walking or transit.
  • The presence of a welcoming front porch or an entrance that can be seen clearly from a distance may reduce youth’s wariness about entering the center. In the interior, a building with multiple separate rooms seems more like a family home and allows more opportunities for youth to be separate in the event of a conflict.
  • Services for meeting basic needs, including showering, eating, napping, cleaning clothes, and accessing health care, are essential.
  • Rules, consequences, and rewards should be clear and consistent, but consequences should not be permanent.
  • The center’s environment should also be comfortable for staff. Individual fit with the center’s philosophy can be assessed through observation of center activity and then strengthened through initial training.
  • The center’s director or program coordinator can provide outlets for staff stress through an open door policy and regularly scheduled opportunities for staff to discuss difficult situations and their resolution.