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click to enlarge Urban Peak youths co-created this mural, found on the shelter's wall. - DARCIE NOLAN
  • Darcie Nolan
  • Urban Peak youths co-created this mural, found on the shelter's wall.

Young people make up 9 to 10 percent of people experiencing homelessness. In El Paso county there can be over 100 youths on the street on any given night. They are at greater risk of dropping out of school, don't have adult role models to teach them basic life skills, and are more likely to be targeted by human traffickers. Urban Peak is the only organization in our area specifically rallying around these kids and working to provide them the opportunity to thrive.

"Our whole mission is to ignite the potential in youth to exit homelessness and lead self-determined, fulfilled lives, and they define that for themselves," says Executive Director Shawna Kemppainen. "That is probably the thing that we do best and differently from most places. We stand beside youth and we let them say 'Here is where I am going to head.'"

Urban Peak runs three programs for youths 15 through 20: street outreach, a shelter and a housing program. Lots of kids — over 400 a year — get their first introduction to Urban Peak by meeting the street outreach team. They are there to offer unconditional acceptance as kids make difficult decisions for their survival. Kemppainen explains: "About 30 percent of youth who are out on the street will actually end up engaging in some sort of survival sex — trading sex for money, food, a place to stay ... but they are also very mistrusting of adults, so it takes many, many conversations with them [before they are willing to come to the shelter]." The street outreach team builds relationships and patiently rebuilds trust. Their focus is helping young people find their next step — contacting a safe family member, finding a place to stay or getting into the shelter.

At the shelter they can get the help they need to move toward a healthy, fulfilling life. Urban Peak's robust programming includes job preparedness training, GED or diploma help, even help applying for college and completing the application for student aid. There is an available health professional and mental health services as well — all part of the effort to move kids from homelessness to stability while taking care of basic needs like a warm bed and healthy meals.

Finally, Urban Peak has developed a housing program to get youths into a permanent home. The program helped 46 youths in the last year.

The city of Colorado Springs estimates it costs $57,500 a year to allow someone to remain homeless. Urban Peak can provide housing and case management for one young person for $15,000 a year.

The reasons behind homelessness can be numerous. The majority of youths experiencing homelessness are in that position because of decisions adults made — decisions to hurt them, to impede their healing, or to not accept them as they are. We all have the opportunity to stand up for them and with them by helping Urban Peak. Find out more about their programs at urbanpeak.org.

— Darcie Nolan

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