Urban Peak is a haven in the city for youth experiencing homeless

Sometimes it’s as simple as ditching the backpack to get people to look at you differently.

“If you go into a Starbucks with a backpack, people look at you weird,” said 23-year-old Ricky Rolls, who has been homeless during the two months he’s lived in Denver. “It just makes you feel bad.”

But when using Urban Peak‘s drop-in center in downtown Denver, Rolls can stash his stuff in a locker and unencumber himself of his earthly possessions when out in public. He can also use the nonprofit’s drop-in center on Stout Street — dubbed The Spot — to take a shower, do laundry, use computers or just hang out with other young people in his situation.

“That’s what Urban Peak does a good job with — is hope,” Rolls said. “When you don’t have hope, you just get depressed and give up.”

Rolls lost his job in Washington State at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, moved to Arizona and ended up homeless in Phoenix. He recently came to Denver, noting the comprehensive services Urban Peak renders to youth like himself, many of whom are struggling to land a shelter and stable work.

“It goes together — stable housing, stable job,” said Rolls, who said for now he picks up odd jobs in warehouses when he can.

Urban Peak, founded in 1988, is a part of The Denver Post Community Foundation’s Season to Share program. CEO Christina Carlson said the organization serves around 1,000 “unduplicated” youth a year — from age 15 to 24 — with emergency shelter, supportive housing and other services.

The organization sees an exit rate of 80% of the clients it serves into a situation that is more stable.

“We’re talking about teenagers who are dealing with a huge amount of trauma,” Carlson said. “We want to build that relationship so we can get someone housed.”

Urban Peak provides case management, access to physical, mental, and behavioral health care, education and employment opportunities — along with around-the-clock crisis support. The organization has 68 apartments in Denver it provides to those in need, plus a 40-bed emergency shelter for those with a more urgent need for help.

But Urban Peak doesn’t want to stop there. It has plans to build the “mothership” of homeless teen services in the area.

“It’s really revolutionary,” Carlson said.

The mothership is a $37 million, 136-bed shelter and more at Urban Peak’s property on South Acoma Street, where until recently its homeless shelter stood. Carlson said the new project would feature more focused programming for clients — a sober living wing, services for pregnant teens and support for those youth living with development disabilities, for example.

“There is this need for something between congregant living and supportive housing,” she said.

Carlson hopes for a groundbreaking by year’s end and completion of the project sometime in 2024.


Address: 2100 Stout St., Denver, CO 80205

In operation since: 1988

Number of employees: 74 full time/part time

Annual budget: $9 million

The Denver Post Season To Share is the annual holiday fundraising campaign for The Denver Post and The Denver Post Community Foundation, a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, tax identification #27-4328521. Grants are awarded to local nonprofit agencies that provide life-changing programs to help low-income children, families and individuals move out of poverty toward stabilization and self-sufficiency. Visit seasontoshare.com for more information.

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