According to the city's 2014 Point in Time survey - a one-day snapshot of homelessness conducted in January - 116 youths ages 18 to 24 were homeless in Colorado Springs that day. But Shawna Kemppainen, executive director of Urban Peak youth shelter in Colorado Springs, said the survey might not paint the most complete picture of youth homelessness in the area. She points to state Department of Education data that counted 2,564 homeless students from kindergarten through grade 12 in El Paso County during the 2012-13 school year.
Here's what Kemppainen had to say about the teen and young adult population that Urban Peak serves:
Who comes to Urban Peak?
- About one-third of Urban Peak's clients were part of the foster care system at some point in their lives.
- In 2013, about 20 percent of the clients identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. Many of these youths are homeless because of rejection and prejudice in their families. About 20 to 40 percent of youths experiencing homelessness nationwide identify as LGBT.
- About half of the youths at Urban Peak have a mental health issue and about 10 percent have developmental disabilities. Substance abuse and chemical dependencies also are prevalent.
What services are needed to better serve homeless youths?
- More beds, especially during the winter. Although there are multiple organizations that offer services to youths, Urban Peak is the only one specifically dedicated to that age group. The 20 beds at the shelter are usually 85 to 90 percent full, though space is tighter in the winter. Last year, Urban Peak sheltered 147 youths, half of whom are now in stable housing.
- A daytime drop-in center. Colorado Springs would benefit from a center that can connect homeless youths to services during the day. The center also would provide a respite from living outdoors and serve as a place where workers could build trust and relationships with the youths, one of the hardest parts of their jobs.
- More affordable, supportive housing for youths. Urban Peak's affordable apartment program usually has about 15 units available, but there's demand for at least 50. Homeless youths need a space where they can plan for the future and feel empowered and supported as they follow through with their plans.
Elise Schmelzer, The Gazette