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!


  1. Dan and Chris, I am so amazed and impressed by this "experiment" that so poignantly provides a window into the tragedies of street life to an average everyday person living their lives in and about the "buildings" of Denver while so many are virtually right underfoot living their lives on the "streets." Thank you for doing this work and providing an awareness and advocacy to helping homeless youth. -Chris Telk

  2. Thanks for the kind words Chris!

  3. Dan,
    It amazes me the strength and courage you and Chris have to brave the weather, and the streets of Denver, to learn the actual lives of the homeless youth (and adults).
    There are many of them out there and many people do not realize how rampant homelessness is. It can happen to any family (including my middle-class family), I had a daughter, her husband and two sons that ended up in the Denver Rescue Mission for a little time. It was a helping step up for them and helped them get on their feet.
    I didn't know they were in there until later, but after they got on their own, I have been issuing donations to the Denver Rescue Mission at least twice a year which really makes me feel gratefull for all they did for my daughter.
    To this day I still help the Mission out every so often. Thanks for your eye opening experiment. Hopefully others will see and feel what I have.

    Ray Rodriguez
    Denver, CO. 80249

    1. Ray! Thank you! And thanks for sharing your personal story! Dan