The Denver Post:  The Denver housing boom is negatively impacting affordable housing for homeless youth transitioning to independent living. Urban Peak offers shelter, a drop-in center, basic medical services and help with education, employment and housing to Denver youths ages 15-24 who are struggling with homelessness.

By Elizabeth Hernandez

Christopher Cooper, 20, dreams of enrolling in college so he can one day film a documentary and study abroad in Iceland. He hopes that Urban Peak — a nonprofit designated for homeless youths in Denver — can start him on the right path.

Cooper came from Chicago to Denver five months ago.

“It was a coin flip,” he said. “It was either here or Orlando.”

As he ate breakfast at the youth shelter, 1630 S. Acoma St., Cooper talked about job prospects, housing goals and his progress with school enrollment that staff at Urban Peak were supporting him with.

“I’m trying to use the resources here as much as I can,” he said. “Even just having somebody to talk to is nice.”

Urban Peak offers shelter, a drop-in center, basic medical services and help with education, employment and housing to Denver youths ages 15-24 who are struggling with homelessness.

“We have a full convergence of services that wrap around our youth,” said Clayton Gonzales, assistant director of programs for the nonprofit organization.

During breakfast, Gonzales mingled with young folks who were staying at the shelter, which can house up to 50 juveniles in a dormitory when the weather gets cold.

Gonzales said the youths at Urban Peak are paired with a case manager who helps them put together a plan for their futures.

“We want to see them leave here positively, but it’s not always that simple,” Gonzales said.

Barriers — such as getting the program participants ID cards and birth certificates if they don’t have them — can be challenging. It’s these types of obstacles that make finding a job so difficult, Gonzales said.

On top of that, the Denver housing boom is negatively affecting the young people in their pursuit of getting back on their feet.

Rising prices are pushing the Urban Peak youths farther away from downtown and the resources they count on, Gonzales said.

While Urban Peak owns and operates three apartment complexes and manages about 120 transitional housing units for Denver youths, the organization also aims to help young adults find housing for themselves once they’re ready. Gonzales said it is increasingly difficult to find anything affordable.

“It gets worse year after year,” he said. “We’re trying to find some place close to where they find work, close to their case manager, somewhere safe so they don’t get in trouble and somewhere affordable. It’s no easy task.”

Through partnerships, volunteers and a dedicated staff, Urban Peak serves about 2,500 teens and young adults a year.

Brittany Greer has been a volunteer at the shelter for the past five months.

Serving up pancakes and breakfast burritos, Greer greeted the young people gathered for a meal with a warm smile.

“Seeing the kids’ faces and how appreciative they are — that’s what keeps me coming back,” she said.

On his way out of the dining hall, Cooper doubled back to give a reminder.

“Keep an eye out for my documentary,” he said. “I’m going to make the right decisions here and do it.”

Urban Peak

In operation since: 1988

Number served last year: 2,385

Staff: 65

Yearly budget: $4.6 million

Percentage of funds given directly to clients and services: 73 percent

 

 

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