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Waypoint Drop-In Center In Rochester Aims To Make Young People Feel ‘Safe And Cared For’

Waypoint’s Youth Services staff in Rochester, in front of building to become Youth Resource Center, from left to right, Joss Birnie, Ariel Hayes, Tori Bird, Amy Malone, Mandy Lancaster.";

Young people facing housing instability in the Rochester area may soon have a new place to come for support and services. The nonprofit Waypoint is renovating a building in the city that will serve as a drop-in center for teens and young adults in the city and surrounding areas.

Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Erin Kelly, program director for Homeless Youth and Young Adult Services, says the project is moving along and expects the center to open by 2022. She spoke with All Things Considered host Peter Biello about the center and its mission. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Peter Biello: This is All Things Considered from NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. The nonprofit Waypoint is planning to set up a new drop in resource center for young people who are unsheltered or facing housing instability. When renovations are finished, the new facility will offer space for things like showers and meeting space for conversations with case managers. Erin Kelly is the program director for Homeless Youth and Young Adult Services at Waypoint. Erin, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Erin Kelly: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Peter Biello: Erin, the center has been in the works for more than a year now. What did it take to get this project going?

Erin Kelly: Yeah, so Waypoint really made some goals at the beginning of 2020 to expand services based on the fact that we have seen growing need in different communities throughout New Hampshire to respond to youth and young adults who are experiencing homelessness and housing instability. And we really needed to make sure that we had secure funding to be able to carry this project through and to find the appropriate space that would allow us to be able to renovate a building, to really meet the needs of the young people that we're trying to serve. So, those were the things that we were really focused on over the last year. And in addition to that, we really did a lot of outreach in connection with community members to make sure that there was community buy-in and that the City of Rochester would be as excited about this project as we are.

Peter Biello: And Waypoint is currently serving more than 130 young people in the Rochester, Dover and Somersworth area. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the key issues they're facing?

Erin Kelly: Most of the young people that we're providing services to are in that sort of 18 to 21-year-old range where they're transitioning into adulthood but don't necessarily have a secure foundation under them. They are working for many of them, one or two pretty low-wage jobs that really do not provide them a livable wage. As we know, the cost of housing in our communities has increased immensely, and young people today just can't afford housing. And so many of them are just experiencing the kind of living in poverty. In addition to that, I think a lot of young people prior to the pandemic were couch surfing, moving from place to place and kind of sleeping on a different couch or floor at any given time. And the pandemic made it so that many of the people that might have taken them in previously really were leery to do so, especially when a lot of the young people were our essential workers working in grocery stores or pizza delivery. And so we had a lot of young people that had to transition from couch surfing to either sleeping in their cars or a vehicle, maybe an emergency shelter or even outside.

Peter Biello: One of the intentions behind the center is that it's a drop-in center, so young people can come and go whenever they want. What do you see as the benefits of this model?

Erin Kelly: It allows for young people to be able to come in at any time that we're open and access basic needs like food, clothing, a place to take a shower, a place to do laundry and even access to things like computers and internet and phones, or places to charge their phone. And then also, while they're accessing those basic needs, they have the opportunity to build a relationship with safe, supportive adults in the staff there at the drop-in center and be able to start thinking about what their goals are and start working on 'how am I going to get from where I am right now to where I want to be?'

Peter Biello: So in short, this isn't a shelter where they can stay overnight, but it is a place where they can go and take care of the things they need to take care of during the day while they are getting the rest of their life in order.

Erin Kelly: Correct, yes. It is not a shelter, although we hope at some point down the road that we are able to offer shelter services on the Seacoast. It is not something we do right now. But yes, this drop-in center will allow them to have a safe place to be able to get their needs met during the day and even just to be in a place where they know that they are safe and cared for and connected to people that are safe as well.

Peter Biello: So when do you think it'll be ready for the first young people to walk through the door?

Erin Kelly: We're hoping [for the] beginning of 2022. So, we do have quite a bit of renovation work that needs to happen to the building that we just purchased. And we really are hoping to do the kind of ribbon-cutting and open the doors to young people at the beginning of 2022.

Peter Biello: Erin Kelly is the program director for Homeless Youth and Young Adult Services at Waypoint. Thank you very much for speaking with me.

Erin Kelly: Yes, thank you so much for having me.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

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