COLORADO SPRINGS — Two agencies that support young people are coming together to help LGBTQ+ teens who have no place to go in El Paso County.
Inside Out is a nonprofit that helps LGBTQ+ teens persevere and thrive. The PLACE is also a nonprofit but serves teens who are homeless. Both agencies are partnering up to offer a warm space for teens who have no place to go.
Agency officials say this partnership started Dec. 10. Young people who are living without shelter can enter the Inside Out building on North Wasatch Avenue between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., to warm up, get a simple meal and basic hygiene supplies. Case managers and mental health clinicians will also be there to talk about support services, including the potential for housing.
"These youth are operating out of fear or hope, one or the other most of the time," said Shawna Kemppainen, executive director of The Place. "The youths so far, in the drop-in have expressed gratitude absolutely. We've been able to serve 15 teens so far."
Kemppainen says one and every three homeless teens identify as LGBTQ+. Her agency has an outreach team that walks the streets, looking for teens who don't know where to go after being displaced.
"The raging COVID pandemic is surging alongside the increasing epidemic of youth homelessness," Kemppainen said. "The new limits on services and space now collide with winter. Young people we know are right now at dire risk of disease, increased vulnerability to assault or human trafficking, and freezing before they find the right help."
Jessie Pocock is the Executive Director of Inside Out. She says since the pandemic began, all of their support services have gone virtual. Pocock says the teens her agency comes across, are suffering from isolation, and even suicidal thoughts.
"They are our communities most vulnerable youth and that's why it is so important that we all step up to support them," Pocock explained. "That's why this partnership is so exciting to me."
Agency officials say in October in El Paso County, there were about 350 young people experiencing homelessness, and about half of them were completely without shelter. This warming shelter is just a temporary prototype for a more permanent solution. Both agencies hope that one day this space will be open and warm for teens on the street, all year round.
“The Inside Out space has always been a respite for these youth, and this collaboration means young people won’t go without warmth, food and help right now,” Pocock said.
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For more information on The PLACE, click here.