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As youth homelessness rises in El Paso County, The Place is helping them get back on their feet

Posted at 6:31 PM, Oct 13, 2022

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO — Eighteen-year-old Nette Pryor shows us around the home she now lives in with several other roommates in Colorado Springs.

"We actually have our pantry for everybody to share," Pryor said as she takes us through the kitchen of the ranch home on the west side of the city.

The pantry is stocked with typical food staples like pasta, rice and beans. On a table, there's a laminated list of basic recipes like homemade spaghetti and meatballs to help guide anyone there who doesn't know how to cook.

But this home, this program that makes it all possible, is giving Pryor and her roommates so much more than the basics.

"I have a roof over my head and I can be independent while still having others to lean upon," Pryor said.

Pryor ended up homeless on a December night last year.

"I was only wearing shorts and I was barefoot, so I ended up walking (a mile) to the 7-Eleven," said Pryor. "I didn’t even actually know what time it was at the moment. So I went inside and I just happened to ask this lady, 'Do you know what time it is? Are the buses still running? Do you have a dollar?' "

She wanted to go to The Place, a youth homeless shelter in downtown Colorado Springs. The woman grabbed her some shoes and socks and dropped her off at the front door.

"I basically said, 'I don’t have anywhere to go.' "

Pryor says there were often times she considered taking her own life.

"A lot of the times I didn’t even think I would make it to 18," she said.

The Place CEO Shawna Kemppainen has spent a decade helping teens just like Pryor.

"We'll see a young person who’s dropped off with two suitcases by their parents and we have seen people show up at the door with no socks and no shoes when it’s December," said Kemppainen.

Kemppainen says as soon as a youth shows up at the shelter staff immediately offers a meal and gets them some of the basics to live. From there, they begin to help each youth to get on their feet.

"We're really focused on helping you get back to school, get work and get mental health services, whatever kind of health services that you need," Kemppainen said.

But Kemppainen says this year has been particularly heartbreaking.

"We’ve had two youth in the past six months who ended their lives," said Kemppainen as she holds back tears.

"That's probably the most difficult thing," she said. "What we know is for at least a bit of time they had the right support around them."

Pryor says the support she's received has allowed her to explore her career goals as an artist. She says The Place also helped her get her GED and find a job.

Nancy Wallace of Braveheart Properties used to sit at the front desk of the shelter as a volunteer. She currently rents one of her properties in Colorado Springs to the non-profit for a discount. Wallace says she's watched the Transitional Living Program with The Place make a huge difference in the lives of so many teens.

"They just need someone to say,' Yeah you can do it and let us help you figure out how you can do this yourself.' "

Pryor is figuring it out and hopes other teens know the place is ready to help them, too.

"I just want other peers my age to know they’re not alone if they’re struggling with their home or just with living or anything in general," Pryor said. "There are people out there who know what you’re going through. It’s not impossible to get on your feet and it’s not impossible to do better or go through better."

The Transitional Living Program is funded with a $250,000 per year grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. It helps young people between 16-21 years old move along the path to independence. It was just renewed for the next three years.

To learn more about The Place click here.

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