Defining STOP-IT's Drop-In

Feb 22, 2019 | by Jennifer Harvey

Drop-ins have historically been safe and encouraging spaces for individuals experiencing disruptions in their mental health to access support on their own terms. They are often seen as a stepping stone to more specific services, such as psychiatry, counseling, and case management. Most drop-in centers operate in order for their participants to feel like they have a space where they can “just be”. More often than not, individuals who access drop-in centers have vulnerabilities in their lives that limit the spaces that allow them to just be themselves due to stigma and shame.

The Stop-It Drop-In is open twice a week as a safe and supportive place for female-identified folks, ages 14-29, who have been exploited or who are engaged in the commercial sex trade. Children of drop-in participants are also welcome through age eleven. STOP-IT’s overall aim is to foster a space that restores choice to survivors as they pursue healing, relationships, and resources on their own terms. We are committed to the process of walking alongside people as they take ownership of their goals, decisions, and skills.  Participants are able to come and go as they please and choose what their time in the space looks like; they can play cards, meet with a case manager, rest and watch TV, or work on the computer to create a resume, to name just a few.

In order to maintain a low-barrier space where folks can access resources, healing, and community, STOP-IT adheres to the following core values:

Trusting and Supportive Relationships

“Building long-term, trusting relationships is at the heart of this work” (Clawson, 2008)

Due to the nature of the population we serve, we hope to be a place that fosters trustworthiness. There is often shame for those who have lived experiences of trafficking or who are engaging in survival sex. By forming accepting, nonjudgmental, and healthy relationships, we hope to break down the stigma that individuals face. In a 2008 study regarding recovery for survivors of trafficking, it was identified that, “A critical part of trauma recovery and building new lives for trafficking victims involves development of trusting, long-term relationships. This often needs to occur well before a victim is willing to engage in trauma specific treatment” (Clawson, p.6). Trauma-specific treatment usually requires a commitment to consistency, length of treatment, and disclosure of trauma. We know that many individuals lead transient lives in order to survive and also may not recognize or define their experience as exploitative. Therefore, engagement in specified services may not be easy. Our primary goal is to let folks define their circumstances in their own words, supported by staff who believe them unconditionally without any expectations. Additionally, many folks walk through our doors with complex trauma and daily frustrations as they navigate the systems of housing, education, employment, and benefits around them. Therefore, the center is purposefully a place to enjoy and have fun. We play board games, listen to music, get crafty, and cook together!

Participant-Driven & Informed

We aim to create a space where participants not only feel at home, but feel ownership and purpose. As was mentioned previously, there are challenges for survivors in developing trusting relationships with professionals. Therefore, it is recommended to offer an environment that incorporates peer-to-peer support as a core component. Participants may feel more comfortable with peers who understand their hardships and have similar lived experiences. (Clawson, 2008, p. 7). By working in collaboration with participants to define our space, programming, and day-to-day activities, we strive for individuals to believe they are capable of taking care of themselves, thinking for themselves, and leading others. Through situations of trafficking, methods of control permeate one’s ability to feel a sense of empowerment. Our drop-in provides opportunities for participation focus groups, participant-led activities, and daily choice in activities in order to expose the strength and leadership that every participant already possesses. As part of overall recovery, “engaging victims in decision making, providing leadership opportunities, and helping youth develop valued social roles” are opportunities to regain or reshape the sense of self and capabilities (p. 7).


A trauma-informed approach begins with survivor-centered practices and names, “Realizing the prevalence of trauma, Recognizing how trauma affects all individuals involved with the program, organization, or system….[and] Responding by putting this knowledge into practice” as core elements (OVC TTAC, n.d.). At our drop-in, we strive to first and foremost know how trauma will impact those who access our services. In their book, Using Trauma Theory to Design Service Systems, Harris, M. & Fallot describe additional key concepts of trauma-informed care to be safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment (2001). A large part of trauma-informed care in our specific space lies in creating safety through choice. Many individuals have experienced a lack of control in their trafficking situations. 

Our drop-in is designed for many opportunities that instill choice.  Analogous to the desire for participants at the ARE Drop-In Center in Jackson M.I, “Each center member makes [her] own decision about when to come to the Center, when to leave, with whom to interact, what to talk about, whether to watch TV, etc. Although these decisions appear minor to outsiders, many individuals have experienced having all their decisions made for them” (2016-2018). Lastly, since the drop-in is a specific type of resource, we rely heavily on multidisciplinary collaborative networks of trauma-informed programs across Chicagoland in order to meet housing, life skills, health care, legal services, and vocational supports when participants are ready to access them. Our trauma-informed approach extends beyond what we can provide and into the referrals we make.

Come as You Are, What You are is Enough

Our drop-in is intentionally low threshold in its modality and therefore strives to meet the basic needs of folks without intensive accountability or expectations. Through on-hand resources, participants are able to access transportation to get home and back, a warm meal and snacks, and hygiene products each time they come. There are purposefully no restrictions on who can access these basic and needed resources. Pedersen (2017) explains that “drop-in centers are often a youth’s initial resource for services after leaving home, which puts drop-in centers in the unique position to help you transition to more formal services to meet their needs. They can be an important point of contact for you that may not seek services elsewhere”. We also want to be a place where folks can receive second chances. Many of our participants may need a drop-in space at varying points in their life and we strive for them to know that they are always welcome to come back. As the ARE Drop In Center (2016-2018) so adequately states, the drop-in is a place where individuals “are given the opportunity to learn to take risks. They know they will be accepted whether they succeed or fail. The drop-in space serves as a safety net providing a secure place to return to after taking new risks” such as going back to school, applying for employment, going to the hospital, etc.

Let’s talk future! What we doing to press into these values in 2019?

  • More Resources!

We have worked hard to update, freshen, and get to know our local resources in order to provide the best referrals possible to our participants.

  • Leadership and Peer-to-Peer Support!

With the help of our participants and survivor support, we are reviewing agency policies and programming to improve upon and create more welcoming intake paperwork and activities so that our space will feel safer and all the more trauma-informed. We also hope to provide more opportunities for participants to plan and lead groups on topics of their choice for the other participants.

  • More Fun!

Last year we went on our first outing together to see a movie in the park! We will be continuing to plan more outings throughout the year to offer more moments of fun and community.


ARE Inc. Drop In Centers. (2016-2018). The Purpose of a Drop-In Center. Retrieved from

Clawson, H.J., Salomon, A., & Goldblatt Grace, L. (n.d.) Treating the Hidden Wounds: Trauma treatment  and mental health recovery for victims of human trafficking. Retrieved from

Harris, M. & Fallot, R.D. (Eds.). (2001), New directions for mental health services: Using trauma theory to design service systems. Jossey-Bass, 89, Spring.

Office For Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center. (n.d.) Using a Trauma-Informed Approach. In Human trafficking task force e-guide: Strengthening collaborative responses (4.1). Retrieved from

Pedersen, E.R., Tucker, J.S., & Kovalchik, S.A. (2016). Facilitators and barriers of drop-in center use among homeless youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59(2), 144-153. Retrieved from


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