J. Adrian Stanley
A huge crowd gathered for the Off the Street breakfast.
's Off the Street Community Breakfast drew approximately 900 people Wednesday morning. The crowd gathered to support the nonprofit's mission of ending youth homelessness in Colorado Springs.
The annual breakfast is held under the Colorado Avenue bridge downtown, a setting not unlike those that many of the area's less fortunate residents call home. Event-goers were treated to a breakfast provided by Picnic Basket Catering and a moving program, including a video about a young person who was helped off the streets by Urban Peak, and two performances from the Hear Here Youth Poetry Slam Team.
Urban Peak executive director Shawna Kemppainen told the crowd that money raised at the breakfast would help the organization expand its programming for homeless youth, like health care, a shelter, educational services and outreach. While the nonprofit works with nearly 600 youth in a year, she says it only reaches about 20 percent of the youth who need it. Ultimately, she says, she wants to get to a point where no young person is ever turned away from Urban Peak's doors, and instead each person is put in the appropriate programs within 24 hours.
"In an ideal world," she said, "we would expand every program that we have Monday."
In the meantime, she said, every dollar earned at the breakfast will go directly to programs to help homeless youth who face steep challenges. For instance, according to Urban Peak, 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ. Twenty to 30 percent of female homeless youth are pregnant. And 45 percent of the homeless youth that Urban Peak serves identify as having a mental illness.
One of the most moving parts of the program was the speech given by 18-year-old Jorge, who spoke of how he escaped an abusive home and a dysfunctional safety net in Indiana and came to Colorado Springs. Here, Urban Peak's outreach workers provided him with needed necessities and encouragement that he had never experienced before, giving him confidence to get his life back together.
"Urban Peak taught me I should stop doing it for everybody else and just do it for me," he said, choking back tears.
Jorge told the crowd that he now has a full-time job and is about to sign a lease on his first apartment. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.
Other presenters included Greg Morris, executive director of Ascending to Health Respite Care, who has worked with Urban Peak for decades. He said that a homeless person can expect to die 30 years before his or her housed peers, meaning that many of the youth that Urban Peak helps could be halfway through their lives if they don't find a way off the streets.
Another presenter, John Spears, executive director of Pikes Peak Library District, told the crowd that struggled to tell his family he was gay when he was a young man, which led to 20 years of substance abuse. His life, he told the crowd, "had many dark chapters." It was only because of the support of friends and family that he didn't end up on the streets.
Because of that, Spears says he's very drawn to helping the struggling youth of today, who need support so that they can leave their own dark chapters behind and go on to "write the story that they were meant to."