Published in Nonprofits

‘Timing was right’ for GR youth housing organizations to merge

BY Sunday, June 28, 2020 09:02pm

Two Grand Rapids youth housing organizations and longtime partners have merged into one organization after years of consideration, aligning with recent consolidation trends among nonprofits.

3:11 Youth Housing provides housing to 18-24 year olds, while HQ Runaway & Homeless Youth Drop-In Center serves as a daytime community and resource center for 14-24 year olds who are experiencing unsafe or unstable housing. Both organizations will continue their current programming while a new brand for the consolidated organization is established in the coming months.

Lauren VanKeulen, co-founder and co-director of 3:11 COURTESY PHOTO

Leaders of the two organizations have been in conversations about the merger for the past four years and began the process late last year, according to Lauren VanKeulen, co-founder and co-director of 3:11.

“The timing was right,” VanKeulen told MiBiz. “It made sense for the youth in the community and made sense for both organizations — two very strong organizations coming together. We really believe that this is best for young people.” 

VanKeulen will lead the new organization as its CEO with a leadership team that combines staff and board members from both organizations.

Historically, the organizations have partnered through shared grants, referrals and larger projects like the Comprehensive Health Initiative they started last year with support from the Steelcase Foundation, Herman Miller Cares, the Frey Foundation, Michigan Health Endowment Fund and Mars Hill Bible Church. 

“What youth experience is going to remain the same, but this will hopefully allow us to more seamlessly transition youth from the drop-in center into housing,” VanKeulen said.  

About 450 runaway or homeless youth use the HQ drop-in center near downtown Grand Rapids each year while 3:11 has the ability to house 24 people at a time, according to VanKeulen. 

Both the pandemic and homelessness are affecting communities of color and low-income neighborhoods disproportionately, which is increasing the need for local youth housing services. About 80 percent of the youth who use the drop-in center or are temporarily housed by 3:11 are people of color, and 95 percent of those currently in 3:11 housing lost their jobs within one week of shutdowns stemming from coronavirus, VanKeulen said. 

“Being present and stepping up to say that we’re not going anywhere, we’re going to help during this time and we’re going to increase our services has just been really vital,” VanKeulen said. 

Both HQ and 3:11 have increased support to youth throughout the pandemic with services like virtual support and teletherapy, grocery delivery and rental payment assistance. VanKeulen hopes the merger will result in increased quality and capacity as well as greater reach and community support. 

Nonprofit mergers grow

The move comes as more nonprofit organizations of all sizes seek efficiencies through consolidation. Earlier this year, the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University released a report that included “philanthropic collaboration and consolidation” as an important trend among nonprofit organizations in 2020. 

Forty percent of nonprofits say they’re considering the possibility of entering a strategic partnership with another nonprofit organization, according to a survey conducted last year by accounting firm BDO USA LLP. Further, one in four organizations said they might enter into a joint partnership with a for-profit organization and even more are finding that mergers — either with another nonprofit or a for-profit entity — may be the best way to continue to serve their communities, according to the report.

Further economic and health challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic could drive the consolidation trend even further, according to VanKeulen. 

“This (merger) was coming before COVID, but I think post-COVID — especially for organizations that maybe are struggling — we will see more nonprofit mergers,” she said. “There is just this growing awareness and willingness to set ego aside and try to work together for the betterment of those that we walk alongside. It’s not about any one organization, it’s about the collective whole. If we could be more effective by merging, then let’s do it.” 

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