Seventy-five people used cardboard, tarps and the warmest sleeping bags they could find to “experience” what it’s like to be homeless and sleep outside last Thursday for Urban Peak Colorado Springs' annual Night Out fundraiser.
Campers stayed outside of First United Methodist Church in downtown Colorado Springs, which hosts the event and provides dinner.
One stipulation was that participants could not bring a tent. Though some left in the middle of the night, most stayed through temperatures in the mid- to upper-teens, said Andy Petersen, director of development.
This year’s event raised $23,000 of a $51,000 goal, by asking friends and family to "sponsor" participants to sleep out, he said.
The financial goal is to fund the shelter through New Year's Day.
“Our programs work, and I am confident our work with youth will curb the rise of chronic adult homelessness in our region,” Petersen said.
The organization used the number $71, the amount for one youth to access services Urban Peak provides for a one-day, one-night stay at its shelter.
A donation of $1,000 covers that youth for two weeks, and $3,000 funds one teen for six weeks — the average shelter stay for homeless teens at Urban Peak.
A portion before the sleep out was experiential, where participants took on the identity of a homeless youth and went through the steps of maneuvering through basic systems.
“We simulated our outreach team meeting them on the street and assessing their condition,” Petersen said.
Perhaps they needed help with substance use, or getting into shelter or housing.
“At the end of that program, participants found out what happened to the youth they embodied,” Petersen said.
Campers then prepared their outdoor beds.
According the Point In Time survey from January, of the 1,500 people living on the streets in El Paso County, one in 10 was a teen, a 20 percent increase over the previous year.
According to 2017 data from the Colorado Department of Education, 1,911 El Paso County students were living in shelters, transitional housing programs, trailers, motels, doubled up with family or living without shelter at all.
A total of 121 youths were identified as unsheltered, a 30 percent increase over the previous school year.
Last year, Urban Peak’s outreach team met more than 600 youth on the city’s streets, provided shelter for 185 youths and housing for an additional 45.