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Local advocates call attention to homeless youth cases in the Springs

Homeless youth
Posted at 5:14 AM, Nov 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 14:49:09-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — In our "Two Americas" series, we're showing you viewpoints and stories that you might not have seen before. This time we're looking at homeless teens who are often pushed out of their homes, versus young adults who go missing, and how these cases are investigated by police.

When someone we hold dear goes missing, the police are called, an alert is issued, and often times the media gets involved. The same can't be said, for when a young adult is forced to leave home.

According to the National Alliance to end Homelessness, on a single night in 2020, over 34,000 youth were counted as homeless in the U.S. Of those, 90 percent were between the ages of 18 to 24.

In Colorado, as of January 2020, an estimated 9,846 experiencing homelessness on any given day.

"In El Paso County in September there were 390 youth experiencing homelessness," said Shawnna Kemppainen, Executive Director of "The Place," a homeless youth shelter. "That's the data, and we get to see that every month and it has been growing since January," she explained.

The police get involved when the individual is under 18. When an officer makes contact with a reported runaway, he or she, then takes them into temporary custody, and then the parents are notified.

But some youth, still fall through the cracks. Like Gabriel, a 19-year-old who's had a tough time for the past two years. Gabriel says for several months he hopped around from place to place, battled drug addiction, and eventually ended up homeless.

"I've learned I can't rely on anyone else. It's all got to come from me, if I want up out of these streets it's gotta come from me," the young man explained.

Gabriel now has a job and is starting college soon.

That's why "The Place" is needed in the Springs. The 20 bed facility offers programs and resources to help young people find their way off the streets. The agency even has a street outreach program. It involves a caseworker and a clinician, going out in pairs to find young adults without shelter in the city. 34 percent of the youth who work with the street outreach team have found jobs, according to the agency.

Dr. Eric Attard is one of the outreach team members.

"We never know the full story behind what people are going through, even as a clinician," he explained. "I can recall last summer having youth that hadn't had access to a shower in 4 months."

Attard says he wishes more stories like Gabriel's would get media attention. So that way, people won't be so quick to judge.

"Someone living on the street is still your neighbor no one is different than you," he said.

Other advocates say the media should pay more attention to homeless youth because chances are they were pushed away and didn't run away.

"if a young person is fleeing they are usually fleeing and leaving because something is happening in the home," she said. "Media attention brings awareness and awareness often brings resources."

For more on "The Place," click here.

For more information and resources, click here.