The nonprofit Rising Ground has been assisting homeless youth and those in need through a series of programs, including their drop-in centers in Jamaica and Far Rockaway. The services offered there provide much-needed assistance to youths ages 14 to 24.
Racquel Jones, the program director for Rising Ground’s Jamaica drop-in center, noted the importance of these centers to help combat homelessness across all of New York City. These centers work with youths identified either as runaways or homeless. This includes youths with family conflicts and no longer residing with them, those who have been couch surfing across different locations and more.
“Rising Grounds is very passionate about addressing youth homelessness,” Jones said. “We work with over 2,000 youths across the fiscal year. They come into the location and see that there are other youths going through the same things. They are also met with friendly and compassionate staff there to help transition them from homelessness to independent living.”
Jones also discussed the many free services offered to these youths in need.
“I think the most beautiful aspect of the program is that we’re open 24 hours,” Jones said. “If a young person has a crisis at 2 a.m. or 3 p.m., they don’t have to wait to be serviced. Our doors are always open, we have a food pantry, we have showers here, free laundry service that we offer, free mental health counseling, free case management and we run social emotional groups. It’s all free. There’s no barriers for services.”
According to Jones, youth homelessness has become a bigger issue facing New York City, and the state as a whole, in the wake of the recent migrant influx, as many of these migrants are in the 14 to 24 age range with nowhere to stay. She also noted that many homeless youths don’t want to end up going to adult shelters, as they don’t feel safe. Consequently, one of the biggest challenges she faces as a program director is finding age-appropriate places for them.
“Youth homelessness doesn’t have a face to it,” Jones said. “You could be inside a grocery store or at a park and not know that a young person there is homeless. We have to dispel that stigma.”
For Forest Hills resident Alissa Cantey, Rising Ground has helped to provide her with life-changing support and services over the last two-and-a-half years. This includes counselling and assistance applying for work and college. Now, she’s a student at Queensborough Community College, where she intends to get a degree in psychology so that she could provide the same kind of help that she received from Rising Ground.
“I wanted to go into [the field of psychology] in order to pay everything forward,” Cantey said. “I want to be that person that wasn’t there for me when I needed them the most. I want to be able to give back and prevent this from happening so that nobody has to be in the same condition that I was that led up to me going into Rising Ground.”
Cantey stressed the importance for youths who are homeless or in need to not be afraid to ask for help. Drop-in centers like the Rising Ground locations in Queens are there for the purpose of helping them.
“I was just more or less trying to survive rather than considering my options,” Cantey said. “It wasn’t until Rising Ground opened the door for me that I found my options. They helped navigate me through financial aid and how to apply [for school]. They were able to teach me how to apply, do my financial aid, make sure I had the right paperwork and I was able to do everything from there.”
Rising Ground also helped Cantey get the Forest Hills apartment where she currently resides, assisting in the preparation of her paperwork and finding her apartment through the NYCHA site.
“I’m grateful for everybody who has helped me,” Cantey said. “They have definitely helped me change into the person that I am today. I really appreciate [the help from] Racquel and everybody [at Rising Ground].”
Rising Ground was originally founded in 1831 as an orphanage known as Leake & Watts before evolving into the nonprofit that it is today, serving individuals and families across New York City and lower Westchester County. Recently, the nonprofit absorbed several programs from Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services, including the drop-in centers in Jamaica and Far Rockaway.