By TERRY FARISH, InDepthNH.org
In Waypoint’s annual fundraiser Sleep Out, hundreds of people across the state sleep outside in chilling observance of all the young people who are sleeping outside. “Outside” is the word Renee Condo uses for when for she was sixteen and pregnant and didn’t have secure housing. Outside is couch surfing, sleeping in people’s back yards, sleeping in tents, sleeping in cars.
Condo’s safe place was Waypoint’s Youth Resource Center on Lincoln Street in Manchester. It’s a drop-in center where clients can come by for food, a shower, get personal products, charge their phones, warm up, use a computer, talk to a case manager if they want to talk. If they have a baby, they can pick up Pampers and other baby supplies.
“I slept outside of this building for two winters,” Condo said. One night when it was very cold, she said, “Erin Kelly knew we were out there. She knew we could die there. I was 16. She came back to the building and opened this space for us.” Erin Kelly at that time was the Youth Resource Center Manager
Waypoint clearly needed an emergency shelter for young people. Kat Strange, the organization’s Communications director, talked about how hard it has been for staff “to close the door of the resource center and go home at night.”
“The Sleep Out fundraiser last year allowed us to do expansion projects,” says the manager of the Youth Resource Center, Jason Smith. One of the biggest expansions is Waypoint’s emergency shelter for youth, the first youth shelter in the state. The building at 298 Hanover Street in Manchester is currently being renovated for the youth shelter, and barring shipment delays, Smith said, the Waypoint youth shelter will open in July or August.
The need grows. Erin Kelly who is now Waypoints’ Director of Homeless Youth and Young Adult Services estimates that 14,000 to 15,000 young people in New Hampshire will be homeless or experience home insecurity at some point in the year.
Six programs are housed in the Youth Resource Center: Street Outreach, Rapid Rehousing, Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, Transitional Living, Transitional Living-Parenting Program, and Youth Resource Center. All six programs will move to 298 Hanover Street. “We’ll be closer to the park on Hanover Street,” Smith said. That is Bronstein Park at Beech and Hanover. The shelter will have 14 beds and three apartments.
Other expansions the Sleep Out has made possible: the first Youth Resource Center in Rochester and the first Youth Resource Center to be added to the Family Resource Center building in Concord, as well as a Street Outreach Program in Concord to connect with homeless youth.
Today, Renee Condo is a young wife and mother, has her high school equivalency, and a great hunger to return to higher education. Also, she now works as a peer counselor for the Waypoint Center that supported her as a teen. About returning to Waypoint, she said, “It’s beautiful. And at the same time, it’s painful…Waypoint is supportive of my background and also of my future.”
Condo describes the homeless youths they serve. Their ages are from twelve until they’re young adults “on the cusp of twenty-three.” Anybody can come here, Condo said of the Resource Center. She lists youth who find themselves outside. “Trans, nonbinary youths. You can get kicked out [of your home] for that. Youth can get kicked out if they get pregnant. Some are homeless because of substance abuse in the family. Youths coming out of Job Corps or placement. “There’s no place to rent. You have to pay for gas, car, food and rent that’s too high. You sit on a waiting list for years [for a place you can afford to rent]. The stigma is the hardest part. You’re a bum.”
As a peer counselor, Condo offers support groups. On this day, she’s planning for her every- other-Friday group called Bond Over Beauty. Clients enjoy it, she said. They gather in a room with shelves of supplies of necessities and a large table in the middle. They paint their finger nails or beautify with face masks. Condo brings curling irons and blow dryers and make-up. Doing each other’s nails is a favorite. “We do real nails with lights. Make it normal. Make life a little more human again.” The youths usually have pizza and they can talk with Renee Condo. “That’s what I wanted the most,” she said about the time she was homeless. “I needed somebody to talk to.”
She always tells clients, “These years matter. Go to school. Knowledge is everything.”
While Condo and Ellie Huot, Case Manager for Youths Under 18, set up goodie bags of nail and beauty supplies for clients and Condo paints Ellie’s nails, they tell about the benefits of their move to Hanover Street. “Strategically, we’ll be near the park for street outreach. We’ll have proximity to Central High. The shelter and all services will be in one building. Continuity-wise, it will be much better. No gap between when we close the resource center and when the shelter opens.”
A young girl comes in for Bond Over Beauty. She’s wearing a Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt and a hijab and sits at a computer. Ellie Huot shows her the array of nail polish she can chose from. The girl is attracted to all the colors. Huot shows the girl her own nails that Condo had painted beige and that’s the color the girl wants.
“Waypoint is about saying, we are going to build a lasting relationship with you,” Condo says. “Someone to be with you on your journey.” Someone who can offer resources to access treatment, employment, education when youths have some stability and are ready.
Waypoint Sleepout 2022 is March 25. https://waypointnh.org/happenings/sleepout2022