Tyler Peoples, left, and Jason Horn of the Springs Rescue Mission set up cots in the City Auditorium when the homeless isolation shelter opened in April. Most youths from The Place, a teen homeless shelter, who are COVID positive or who have symptoms have been sent to the shelter.

A teen homeless shelter In Colorado Springs has experienced its first known COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic began.

Two homeless youths who were staying in the congregate living quarters at The Place, formerly Urban Peak, tested positive for the virus, Andy Petersen, director of development, said Friday.

Several more youths have symptoms, he said.

Public health defines an outbreak as two or more people infected in a 14-day period in one location. In October, one employee tested positive and self-isolated, Petersen said.

Colorado Springs' two primary emergency shelters for homeless adults age 21 and older and families with children experienced COVID outbreaks in December. Springs Rescue Mission had 46 cases and the Salvation Army's R.J. Montgomery Center had 12, according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data.

Most of the infected and symptomatic youths from The Place now are at the city of Colorado Springs’ isolation center for the homeless, Petersen said. Those who weren’t able to go to the shelter are in other safe alternative settings, he added. The Place remains open.

The isolation shelter was created in April inside the City Auditorium as a project of El Paso County Public Health, the city's office of emergency management and several local service providers.

As of Thursday, there were 12 people staying at the shelter, seven of whom were COVID positive, according to Andrew Phelps, homelessness and prevention response coordinator for the city.

To date, 230 homeless individuals have stayed at the shelter, he said, with more than 70 testing positive for the virus.

Operations have been extended through the first quarter of this year and will continue into the second quarter, if needed, Phelps said. The city is using about $900,000 in federal COVID-relief funding to pay for the project.

The Place is working with El Paso County Public Health to help contain the spread of the virus, Petersen said, launching rapid testing on Jan. 4 for staff and clients.

Health officials deemed current protocols and processes for health screening and isolation as sufficient and well-implemented, he said.

Additional cleaning and sanitation practices, wearing face masks, physical distancing when possible and other protocols were implemented early in the pandemic and continued to be followed.

“Really, lack of housing leaves our young people more vulnerable,” Petersen said, adding that the organization is anticipating that staff will receive COVID vaccinations soon.

New winter daytime drop-in center for homeless teens, young adults opens in Colorado Springs

In addition to running a 20-bed shelter for ages 15 to 20, The Place provides street outreach, assistance with getting into housing, help with school and employment, and programs and case management services for young adults ages 21-24.

In March 2020, there were 349 homeless youths in El Paso County, and 357 in October 2020, according to data from the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care, a collaboration that includes agencies and service providers.

Growth since June in the local teen homeless population has been more among white, non-Hispanic teens than nonwhites, statistics show, with 194 white homeless teens and 163 nonwhites recorded countywide for the month of October.

Of the 357 total homeless teens in October, 41, or 13%, identified as LGBTQ+, 194 as heterosexual and 122 as unknown sexual orientation.

The Place and Inside/Out, an organization that serves LGBTQ+ teens, opened a daytime drop-in center for ages 15-24 at Inside/Out’s office, 223 N. Wahsatch St., suite 101. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Monday through Friday.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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