Homeless youth

Homeless youth
People we don't see.

Friday, April 19, 2013

One night on the streets

As promised, I wanted to follow up yesterday's post (and last night's night out on the streets) with a post about what Chris and I experienced.

For those who don't know, we work for Urban Peak: Chris is the Outeach, Education & Employment Supervisor and I was thrilled when he said he would join me. The reason I wanted to spend the night out on the streets was so I could get just a tiny glimpse into what the youth we serve at Urban Peak go through.

We left the Urban Peak office at 5pm and decided to just walk around with our backpacks. We brought cold-weather clothing and sleeping bags. We walked around parts of downtown Denver where people experiencing homelessness gather, like around the Denver Rescue Mission and the park across the street.

After walking around for about two hours we started thinking that we had no idea what to do. It was still light out and way to early to find a place to sleep without drawing attention to ourselves. I was also thinking that we had walked a couple of miles and we were getting a good feel for what the youth we serve go through: always walking. I didn't want to tell Chris but I was already getting tired. I can't imagine what the youth do when they have no place to go and the cold realy starts to set in. As warm as Chris and I were as we did all of this walking in the daylight, soon the sun went down and we began to feel the reality of being outside as the temperature drops.

We walked more. We ran into youth and adults experiencing homelessness. We started to get chilled. Chris knew of places around the Platte River that used to be camping areas where youth we serve would live. That all changed when Denver passed a camping ban. We didn't see any youth along the river. They go further away from downtown and further away from people enforcing the ban.

As I write, our drop-in center is minutes from opening and youth we serve are standing in the sun to stay warm while they wait for our breakfast service to begin. Every Monday through Friday we serve breakfast at 8am to an average of 40-50 youth. For those of you who have not yet toured our drop in center (this is your personal invite from me), youth  can come and eat breakfast, do their laundry, and take a shower. They also sleep.

And I totally get that now. Both Chris and I are exhausted. We slept maybe a total of an hour last night. We started out trying to sleep along the Platte River, and ended up in an alley next to a garbage container, sleeping on pallets to keep off of the cold ground. One doesn't really sleep. The sounds would alert me to the possibility of someone coming by, but were usually just street noises. I found that I was on edge all night. So when I see youth just completely crash after breakfast, I totally get it. There is no rest on the streets.

To sum up some of our experiences:

We, as adults, felt relativeley safe. It was very obvious to us that predators abound, whether at the bus station or along the 16th Street Mall. They are just waiting to take advantage of a youth.

We got very cold. By sunrise, my toes felt almost frozen. So cold. The temperature dropped to 14 degrees.

Living on the streets is not fun. In any way. We could create a list of reasons why but won't. Our experience last night proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Some of the youth we serve sleep on the streets, wake up, and go to work everyday. Both Chris and I agree that after a few nights of this we could not consistently go to work. At this very moment we are exhausted just from one night out.

On any given day in Denver there are nearly 800 youth experiencing homelessness. Nationally there are one million who experience homelessness throughout the year.

Urban Peak is here to serve those youth. If you do not know about the vast amount of services we provide, please come and check us out. Your life will change as you experience our life-changing work.

Of course donations make this all possible. You can donate online here: http://www.urbanpeak.org/

If you would like to discuss a larger type of gift or monthly giving, please email me at dan.hanley@urbanpeak.org

If you'd like to learn more about our drop in center, outreach services, or education and employment programming please email Chris at chris.venable@urbanpeak.org

Thank you for reading!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

One night of homelessness

A couple of months ago, shortly after starting my new job at Urban Peak, I decided that I needed to spend a night out on the streets. At Urban Peak we serve youth experiencing homelessness, over 2500 a year. On any given night, there are 700+ youth calling the streets home in Denver.

It is 27 degrees as I write this and tonight it will be in the low teens.

I have never been homeless and wanted to get a very small glimpse into what our youth deal with every day.

I asked a co-worker of mine to join me. He works with out Education and Employment and also our street outreach. He said yes.

I didn't want to do it by myself.

We will start at 5pm and stay out until 8am. We will walk around the city, find something to eat, try to sleep, try to stay warm. Because Denver has a campaing ban we cannot openly sleep anywhere so will have to be creative around that.
Wherever you live, there are youth experiencing homelessness. It's a shame. And the folks who work at Urban Peak deal with the reality and brutality of homelessness every day.

I love that at Urban Peak we don't ask what's wrong with you. We ask what happened to you.

Drug abuse, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, alcoholism, extreme poverty, physical abuse, parent in jail, getting kicked out because of one's sexual orientation, and the list goes on and on.

The streets become a safer place for them.

Urban Peak is usually a youth's last resort. The last thing they want to do is trust another adult.

Yet they come in. They grab breakfast at our drop in center. They may confide in one of our employees. They can do laundry and take a shower. They can seek overnight safety in our shelter.

And that is just the start of what we provide. And we have been doing this for 25 years.

I wanted to let all of my friends and fundraising peers know what I am doing tonight. I would love it if you shared this so we can get more and more people thinking about youth who experience homelessness. A national number around this is 1 million every year. Can you imagine?

I will write about my experiences. Meanwhile, please think about youth experiencing homelessness. If you are in a position to donate, a small donation goes a long way at any agency that serves youth experiencing homelessness.

Thank you for reading!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Creating your amazing fundraising team

It's not easy.

Sometimes in my career people have told me that maybe I should lower my expectations.


No way.

My expectations are not that crazy:

Hire the best fundraisers.

Create the most exciting, healthy fundraising team.

Rock it with relationship building.

Build lifelong relationships with donors, funders, community leaders and business partners.
Bring the brand to the entire community.

Honor everyone.

Excellence in everything we do. Superb communication. Respect. Integrity. Keeping our eyes on the prize not only around fundraising but also on the mission of our organization.

Having honest conversations with staff, the team and donors is crucial.

I look for all of this when hiring new team members. I look for passion for our mission and for fundraising, successes in fundraising campaigns, relationships within the community and a personality that shows me they are ready to join an incredible fundraising team.

Our team had a development retreat yesterday and as I looked around the room all I could do was smile at all of the passion and professionalism in the room.

It's possible to create an amazing fundraising team. Make sure you have the right people in the right positions. Empower your team. Support them and listen to them.

And then go out there and rock it!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Staying focused and positive

Keep your eyes on the prize.

I say this often to myself and to my team.

I love being a fundraiser. I love everything about it. I love building lifelong relationships that enhance some one's life while supporting our mission.

It's not always easy.

A donor is angry. A co-worker, peer or boss has had a bad day and acts in an unfortunate way. A long-term corporate relationship ends. A grant is declined. Your recent appeal goes south.

I run into these things all of the time. I'm fortunate to work with a solid team of professionals, people focused on our mission and being successful in it as well as in fundraising goals. That helps. Yet there are still times when I just want to shut my door, crank up my music and take a break from it all.

That's the moment when I decide to rock-n-roll.

I always have a list of recent donors and that's where I turn first. I get on the phone. I speak with people who are in relationship with us or who have just started a relationship with us. I thank them. I engage with them. Any negative thoughts or feelings of being overwhelmed seem to vanish after engagement with donors. I also might go for a walk, go grab a coffee or call a board member I trust.

Sometimes this feeling comes about because I have not put the time into a project that I need to work on. It's funny how putting a little focus on that project takes any negative feelings away.

Focused. Positive. Keep your eyes on the prize. Our mission is way too important to get bogged down in negativity, for whatever reason. There is always a way out of that and it usually includes looking in the mirror and deciding to go out there and rock it.

Honor where you're at. Take care of yourself. Then go out there and rock. For all of you out there who constantly remind me of this, thank you!

And thanks for reading.