If you ask a teen how he heard about an Anchor House service or program, the name Ben Thornton often comes up in the conversation.
“Ben welcomed me here to use the shower and computer.”
“Ben told me there was an opening in the apartment program.”
“Ben encouraged me to put in an application.”
Thornton, the outreach coordinator for Anchor House, is am ambassador, administrator, mentor and role model who serves as an important link connecting young people in the Trenton area to services, housing, and other community programs. He operates the outreach program at a drop in center on South Broad Street at the intersection with Beatty Street.
At the center, staff members work to build relationships with young people and connect them with the services they need. Counseling, crisis intervention, job coaching, referrals to community programs, and help finding safe living arrangements are just some of the services the center offers. Youth ages 14 to 24 can stop by and take a shower, wash their clothes, use the kitchen, pick up a toiletry kit, and check email or social media on a computer.
The more than 150 cyclists and 37 support crew members participating in the 40th annual Anchor House Ride for Runaways this week are biking 500 miles to raise money to support the drop in center and other programs for teens and young adults who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. A teen may never need shelter, but will still be connected to Anchor House and learn about other programs through the drop in center.
Then there are the young adults who need help finding long-term housing.
In addition to an emergency shelter for youth ages 12 to 17, Anchor House operates the Anchorage, a house on Centre Street for young adults. Residents work or go to school while learning life skills like how to create a budget or manage a checking account. The Anchor Line apartment program providing subsidized housing, food, and life skills education to up to four young adults.
Over the past year, Anchor House has been able to expand its reach with two new programs, Connect to Home and Rapid Rehousing.
Connect to Home provides housing vouchers to young people through the New Jersey Department of Children and Families and the Department of Community Affairs. Anchor House helps young people find an apartment and connects them with other services they need to become stable and independent. Workers at Anchor House help the participants keep up with the voucher requirements. They also communicate with landlords to explain the program and help them feel more comfortable about accepting the vouchers, Thornton said.
“We help them see our kids as being on par with college kids,” he said. “College kids don’t have a third party the landlord can call if the kid punches a hole in the wall. But if something happens with our kids, the landlord can call us.”
Rapid Rehousing, a federal HUD program, provides young people ages 18 to 24 with apartments and other services like employment assistance, counseling and transportation.
“We are able to take kids straight from the street to an apartment very quickly,” Thornton said. Participants pay rent that is 30 percent of their income, as they also do in the Connect to Home program.
The two new programs have increased the number of young adults Anchor House has been able to place in housing over the past year from 10 people to 36 people.
Thornton, a cyclist and volunteer firefighter, is also a support crew member on the Ride for Runaways this week, working as a rover who tracks the cyclists and makes sure they all make it in safely every day.
On Thursday, the cyclists pedaled 85 miles from Gettysburg to Lancaster, climbing 3,700 feet and crossing the Susquehanna River near the end of the day. On Friday they will bike 68 miles to Landsdale, Pa. In the evening they will attend an awards banquet, where they will find out how much money they have raised so far. The goal this year is to raise $525,000 to support Anchor House housing programs and other services.
To find out more about Anchor House or to make a donation to the Ride for Runaways, visit anchorhouseride.org. Planet Princeton is the media sponsor for the 40th Ride for Runaways.