Every youth that walks through our doors at Urban Peak possesses an intimate and incredible story. Some of our youth may share similarities in these stories, but as each one unfolds in its own personal narrative I am reminded time and time again why I choose to work with runaway and homeless youth.
Every week, Urban Peak provides shelter, educational and employment support, and potential housing for the youth of Denver who, simply put, have nowhere else to go. Our youth come from families who have chosen to cast them aside for various reasons; sometimes they can no longer handle the mental health issues a youth struggles with, sometimes they simply refuse to see the beauty of fluid identities within gender or sexuality. Other times, our youth come out of refuge; trying to escape violence or discrimination from where they come, trying to rebuild and start a new life. No matter the reason, all of our youth come looking for a way to continue moving forward.
At Urban Peak, each youth is quickly linked up with a case manager. Alongside each other, they create goals to work towards during their stay. From “get my ID” to “start hormone replacement therapy (HRT)” no goal is dismissed, but instead is worked into the individual case plan with the understanding that each of these points help to create within our youth a sense of identity and an assurance that change and independence is possible. Most importantly, our youth and staff work to create lasting relationships with one another. It is within these relationships that the true scope of our work comes out and our work becomes more than case management. This relationship allows each of our youth to confide within Urban Peak staff about deeply personal and often tragic histories, allowing us to work side by side through these histories to arrive at a point of understanding, self-confidence, and emotional/physical safety. Within this relationship, success is not measured by data or survey. Instead, we personally watch as our youth grow into young adults. They find their first job, their first apartment, or their first therapy appointment through Urban Peak. Though they hit many bumps in their path, they come back to this relationship knowing we are ready to walk the next step with them.
Xexal first came to Urban Peak in January having been ousted from her family home when she came out as transgender. After three months at the shelter, she left to return to her family. Two months later, I walked out of the office to see Xexal outside. With a quick hug of recognition, she began to tell me she had once again been asked to leave her home due to her gender, this time violently. She followed this by saying the minute she stepped onto Urban Peak property she knew she was home and where she needed to be. Here she made her first steps to becoming the woman she has always been. Here, she said, is where I learned to put on makeup when the other girls showed me how. Two and half months later, we were able to connect Xexal with medical professionals to help her begin hormone replacement therapy. She also helps to lead the weekly shelter queer group, and continues to perform and write her incredible poetry throughout Denver. Most importantly, she is unafraid to call herself a woman.
The use of RHYA funding is pivotal to creating and maintaining the relationships we hold with our youth at Urban Peak. RHYA funding gives us the spaces needed to help catapult our youth to better and independent futures. Funding opens doors to new programming, new ideas, and more youth. Without RHYA funding, more and more youth would remain trapped in the cycles of homelessness and poverty. At Urban Peak, we are thankful for RHYA funding as it allows us to be physically and emotionally present for our youth, to continue fostering relationships, and to continue working with youth that, for whatever reason, need an extra hand.