Program to aid homeless teens finds home

September 2, 2004
An organization that helps homeless teens and young adults is transforming a 4,800-square-foot downtown warehouse into a modern, transitional housing facility expected to open in November.
“This is the one real gap we’ve had in our services,” said John McIlwee, executive director of Urban Peak Colorado Springs. The organization provides drop-in clinics four times weekly where young people can come in from the streets to get food, clothing or a shower. They also can sign up for services, such as a program aimed at helping them earn a GED. McIlwee, however, thinks consistency — around-the-clock contact with counselors in a structured, safe environment — could be key in changing a youth’s life. “We can really get to know them and understand who they are,” he said. “We’ll get a totally different picture of a lot of them.” Also, giving them a modern, nice place to live will boost self-worth, he believes. Since 2002, Urban Peak has looked for a building where it could provide shelter and services to those ages 15-21. In 2003, it found what it thinks is the perfect place in the per- fect location. The building, on East Cucharras Street just off Wahsatch Avenue, will house 20 Urban Peak clients and the nonprofit’s administrative offices, now at the Marian House Soup Kitchen. For 120 days, those in the program will get counseling, help with their education and job assistance. The facility also will have a computer lab and a medical office. Urban Peak said that in the past year, it served 314 teens and young adults — 85 percent from Colorado Springs. Some fled abusive homes, others “aged out” of the fostercare system, and some simply sought the freedom of the streets. Homeward Pikes Peak, the coordinating agency for homeless services in the Pikes Peak region, long has supported the idea of a shelter for teens and young adults. Homeward director Bob Holmes said Urban Peak’s shelter “will be a place where they can feel safe because they’re certainly not as sophisticated as some of the other people who live on the streets,” he said. “If we can catch them early, give them the support they need and turn their lives around, it will be an incredible thing.” Cassandra Crisostomo, 20, has sought help from Urban Peak on and off for two years. She moved to Colorado Springs from North Carolina with her family when she was 18, but left home after three months. Because she was legally an adult, she was able to stay at the Red Cross Shelter — now run by the Salvation Army — on South Sierra Madre Street. “It was not where I wanted to be,” she said of the shelter. “But I had no friends, nobody, no resources. I didn’t know what to do.” She floated between her family and the shelter. This year, though, she learned the meaning of responsibility when she gave birth to a son. “I can no longer feel like, ‘Whatever happens, who cares?’” she said, looking at 2-month-old Isaiah. Urban Peak helped her get into one of 12 apartments it oversees as part of a supportive housing program. The program is separate from the facility set to open in November. To keep the apartment, Crisostomo must follow rules set by Urban Peak and work toward self-sufficiency. “I’m doing everything to stay within the contract,” she said. Last week, she was using the phone at Urban Peak offices to look for child care for Isaiah. “I’m kind of nervous about putting him in day care,” she said. “But my goal is to get a job and provide a really great life for my son.” Crisostomo said her son has changed her life, and Urban Peak gets much of the credit for helping her be a good mother and provide a safe home for her baby. “This is my heart,” she said, looking at Isaiah as he slept in his car seat. “If (the Department of Human Services) took this away, I’d just die.” McIlwee said those staying at the transitional housing facility also must abide by rules and work toward goals. “If we’re going to provide services, they’re going to have to put forth some effort,” he said. Urban Peak is funded through several sources, including government grants and private donations. The El Pomar Foundation contributed $175,000 to buy the warehouse on East Cucharras, which was bought for $380,000. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0236 or
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