Young people make up 9 to 10 percent of people experiencing homelessness. In El Paso county there can be over 100 youths on the street on any given night. They are at greater risk of dropping out of school, don't have adult role models to teach them basic life skills, and are more likely to be targeted by human traffickers. Urban Peak is the only organization in our area specifically rallying around these kids and working to provide them the opportunity to thrive.
"Our whole mission is to ignite the potential in youth to exit homelessness and lead self-determined, fulfilled lives, and they define that for themselves," says Executive Director Shawna Kemppainen. "That is probably the thing that we do best and differently from most places. We stand beside youth and we let them say 'Here is where I am going to head.'"
Urban Peak runs three programs for youths 15 through 20: street outreach, a shelter and a housing program. Lots of kids — over 400 a year — get their first introduction to Urban Peak by meeting the street outreach team. They are there to offer unconditional acceptance as kids make difficult decisions for their survival. Kemppainen explains: "About 30 percent of youth who are out on the street will actually end up engaging in some sort of survival sex — trading sex for money, food, a place to stay ... but they are also very mistrusting of adults, so it takes many, many conversations with them [before they are willing to come to the shelter]." The street outreach team builds relationships and patiently rebuilds trust. Their focus is helping young people find their next step — contacting a safe family member, finding a place to stay or getting into the shelter.