Nonprofit Urban Peak serves thousands of homeless youth in Colorado
As the young boy sits in jail, on a forced detox from the drug addiction that led him here, he picks up a pen to write. It’s a letter of gratitude.
He’s inspired by a birthday card sent to him from Urban Peak, a Denver nonprofit dedicated to helping homeless youth. Like him.
The card made him cry, he writes. Words cannot express how thankful he is, he says, but he wanted to write a letter anyway.
“For a few months, The Spot was my home,” writes the boy, whose name was withheld to protect his privacy and safety. “It was the only place in the world I had to be safe, relax and even shower.”
He’s talking about the doors that Urban Peak opens up to the thousands of youth without a home in Colorado. There are more than 900 youth between 13 and 24 on the streets of Denver any given night, according to a survey by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative.
Many homeless teens are “invisible,” living in alleys, dumpsters and under bridges. Others are at risk for human trafficking rings; in fact, 30 percent of homeless youth will be actively recruited for trafficking and sexual exploitation within two days of leaving home, says the Colorado Homeless Youth Action Plan.
Urban Peak hopes to provide other options and help these kids find stable footing and turn their lives around. The organization helps 2,400 youth annually, by providing a safe place to sleep, shower and eat. The overnight youth-only shelter sleeps 40 a night and is solidly full year-round.
The shelter will reserve beds for youth who want to leave and go to school or work during the day, so they know they will have somewhere to return to at night.
“Being around people their own age can be a safety issue, but it’s also just a comfortable place for them,” says Charlie Annerino, manager of volunteers with Urban Peak. “Just supporting each other going through the same situation can be really powerful.”
Urban Peak also hopes to build community through classes, such as art and creative writing. It provides job training and certification programs, as well as tutoring and education support to help the youth get their GEDs or graduate from high school.
Each youth at the shelter is assigned a case manager to provide personal help with housing resources, education options, mental health support and substance abuse assistance. And the organization runs three housing complexes throughout Denver, with 70 to 80 apartments with case-by-case subsidized rent for homeless young adults ages 18 to 24.
Many of the people Urban Peak helps do not want to live on the streets, Annerino says.
“Even if a youth did choose to live on the streets, it’s more because, in their mind, wherever they were living before, on the street is a safer option,” he says. “This is crazy, because living on the street opens you up to being abused, manipulated and trafficked. But for a lot of our youth, wherever they were, whether a foster home, home or shelter, was an issue of safety.”
A disproportionately large chunk of the homeless youth—nearly one-fifth—are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or questioning, Urban Peak says. And, Annerino adds, were kicked out of their homes when they told their parents about their sexual orientation.
The increase in the Denver rent also has contributed to more youth with limited income and resources ending up on the streets, he says.
“These are sons and daughters; how you and I looked in high school,” Annerino says. “It’s pretty eye-opening.”
The Denver nonprofit Urban Peak, founded in 1988, provides an overnight shelter, daytime drop-in center, street outreach, education and employment programming and supportive housing for youth ages 15 to 24 who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Visit urbanpeak.org for information on how to help.
Fashion for a cause
Urban Peak is gearing up for Urban Nights, its third-annual fundraiser featuring a fashion show and auction that raises money for the organization’s staff and programming.
This year’s runway show, starring 11 Colorado fashion designers, is underwritten by the Joseph Family Foundation. The event has exposed more than 3,000 new people to the cause and raised more than $210,000 so far, says Amy Meyer Smith, chairperson of the event. This year, Urban Nights hopes to raise the bar and bring in $200,000.
In addition to a live and silent auction, donors may purchase art made by homeless youth helped by Urban Peak.
“It’s the event of the summer,” Smith says.
When: Aug. 22; VIP 6:30 p.m., general admission 7:30 p.m., show at 8 p.m.
Where: Mile High Station, 2027 Old W. Colfax Ave., under the viaduct
Cost: $75 for general admission, $250 for VIP. An eight-top table for young professionals younger than 40 is $1,500. A VIP table for 10 starts at $2,500.
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