Southern Colorado nonprofit says youth homelessness is ‘solvable’ even as study finds homeless rates are down

The study cited a total of 1,300 people experiencing homelessness on that one night.
Published: Jun. 14, 2023 at 5:22 PM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Homeless numbers for Colorado Springs and El Paso County are down- according to the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care, a program focused on ending homelessness in our area. They also partnered with the Community Health Partnership.

The study was conducted this year on the night of January 22nd and into the morning of January 23rd. The study cited a total of 1,300 people experiencing homelessness on that one night. This is the lowest number since 2016.

But even with the low homeless population numbers, there are still hundreds of homeless youth.

11 News spoke with the executive director of The Place, who said there are 185 youths- ages 16 to 24. Eighty-seven of which were documented in the study.

The study focuses explicitly on where homeless people sleep at night and their race and ethnicity. More specifically, to identify if that person was sleeping outside, in a shelter, vehicle, or transitional housing program.

The study leader told 11 News they trained over 80 volunteers and recruited some people experiencing homelessness themselves to go out and ask people these questions. This is the first time people experiencing homelessness completed volunteer training and actively participated in helping to survey those who otherwise may not be interviewed.

That information will help community resources decide what needs funding.

“We try to learn a lot about the population to really help support who’s out there, what is the need, and how can we prioritize funding as it comes to homelessness services in our community,” Evan Caster, Community Health Partnership, PPCoC Lead, Senior Manager of Homeless Initiatives said.

“Youth homelessness is a solvable issue,” Shawna Kemppainen, The Place Executive Director, said. “If we have the right sort of housing, the right sort of deep, deep support for young people, they can change their trajectory.”

One of those forms of support is building The Launchpad- a place for homeless 18 to 24-year-olds. They can find shelter, supportive adults, safety, and community there.

“Most of them get out of homelessness with a little help from other family and friends, for example,” Kemppainen said. “But for those who don’t, they need to have safe adults to rely on. They need to have places to come inside, and they need to find that meaning in purpose to drive them forward. We can do that in this community, and that’s where the place steps in.”

Study leaders said the next step is building trust within the homeless community.

“And the very first thing is to see them, to acknowledge their humanity and not to look away,” Kemppainen said. “Because this is not a problem that’s going to go away if we look away. We have to work on a community solution that provides enough affordable housing with a deep sort of support that’s going to be able to get everyone in homelessness off the streets. It’s actually a possible solution.”

11 News reached out to Mayor Yemi Mobolade for comment. Mayor Mobolade said this study provides crucial information for Colorado Springs and El Paso County.

“The Point in Time count provides valuable data to the city, to service providers, and to community members. Having an accurate count is important as we all work together to improve the outlook for those experiencing homelessness. One of the successes reflected in the 2023 count is that more people who have formerly experienced homelessness than ever are living in permanent housing. Housing is a critical component of the homelessness response, and in Colorado Springs, we are positively moving the needle in the right direction.

“I am proud of the people in our community who are working diligently toward solutions. This includes members of the Pikes Peak Continuum of Care, the City’s Homelessness Response team, members of the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) and Homeless Outreach Program (HOP) offered by our police and fire departments, who were instrumental in helping to ensure an accurate count this year, and many more nonprofits and dedicated community members across our great city.

“While we celebrate these successes, we also know homelessness is an enduring challenge here, and many residents are still impacted by the crisis. We will continue to lean into the progress we’ve made, especially around permanent housing and addressing mental health issues that have shown to be key contributing factors to homelessness.”