Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Colorado Springs program gives teens, young adults chance to kick-start a life

By Jakob Rodgers Updated: July 22, 2013 at 9:24 am

Shawna Kemppainen describes the teens and young adults coming through her doors as often feeling at the "bottom of the ladder."

About a third are 18-year-olds from foster homes. Nearly as many were alienated by their families for being gay, lesbian or transgender, she said.

They've come looking for shelter. In the next couple of weeks, some will have new apartments.

Urban Peak, a homeless shelter for teens and young adults, plans to move eight people into apartments recently made available by Greccio Housing, an organization that typically serves low-income people and families across the Pikes Peak region.

For the youths moving into the new Greccio Housing apartments, the program aims to offer a return to normalcy, as well as a chance to kick-start a life on their own.

"They get integrated back into the community again," Kemppainen said. "That's really what they want."

The new apartments don't represent an increase in apartment space for Urban Peak. The organization will move people out of the eight apartments it had in the Knob Hill neighborhood in favor of the newer apartments. But the new agreement with Greccio Housing allows the shelter to offer a much wider array of apartments across the city for the same cost. Greccio Housing boasts 423 units in 20 apartment buildings across the city, said Kelly Jackson, Greccio Housing's development director. Both organizations are typically at capacity.

The more expansive housing options become important when considering the transportation concerns of Urban Peak's clients, who often have new jobs but no car to get them there.

Utilities will be cheaper through Greccio Housing, saving Urban Peak $2,700 a year.

Most importantly, the apartments will also be an upgrade from the Knob Hill units - an important psychological boost for teens and young adults, Kemppainen said.

"You can't be what you can't see," Kemppainen said. "So if you can't imagine your life getting better, how are you going to make that move there?"

The new apartments are spacious - a definite upgrade over Sierra Norris' last apartment, the 19-year-old said.

Norris first came to Urban Peak in May 2012 after being sent there by her mother for quitting a jobs program. She moved into a Knob Hill apartment in November - slowly learning how to live on her own while managing her expenses. She got a job and constantly sought the advice and companionship of the organization's other clients living next door.

Next week's move into the new apartment will be a test of her newfound independence.

Now, many of the people in those older apartments will be living in separate apartment complexes.

It's an opportunity, she said - a chance to put the skills she's learned over the last eight months into practice. And it's one she's excited to take.

"They're helping me to be more responsible," Norris said.

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter @jakobrodgers

Facebook Jakob Rodgers

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OFF THE STREET BREAKFAST

Urban Peak's annual Off the Street Breakfast fundraiser will take place at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday. The breakfast is free, though donations are requested.

Anyone wishing to attend must reserve a seat by 6 p.m. Monday by emailing Andrea.Thomson@urbanpeak.org or calling 719-630-3223.

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