Urban Peak provides homeless teens with a safe, supportive and stable environment and assists with emergency needs, GED preparation and meals.

I wasn’t the best kid growing up.

I tended to run with the wrong crowd, got in some trouble from time to time but at least my parents stayed with me through my somewhat troublesome teen years and I always had a roof over my head in Downer Grove, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

I got to thinking about my younger years when I took a tour of Urban Peak Colorado Springs’ The Place, a licensed 20-bed transitional housing facility for homeless and runaway youth.

I can’t imagine going through the already tough time of being a teenager and throwing in being homeless.

Homeless teens in our community are pushed onto the streets for a variety of reasons, including physical and sexual abuse, family conflict and substance abuse.

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Eighty percent are from local families and they have no other place to go. They cannot stay at adult shelters without an accompanying adult until they turn 18.

Urban Peak provides a safe, supportive and stable environment and assists with emergency needs, GED preparation and meals. The organization also helps reunited teens with their families whenever possible.

Urban Peak benefits our community because homeless teens will not be forced into drugs and prostitution to survive, and it is much less expensive to help a teen get off the street (about $7,300) than to incarcerate him or her (about $50,000 annually).

During my tour of the facility with John McIlwee, I was impressed by the general layout of the building – separate dormitories for boys and girls – and with the round-the-clock staffing.

The dining area is nice and provides a full menu. There are areas for a nurse’s station and areas to teach life skills.

Stephanie Cardwell volunteers four nights a week, providing what appeared to be excellent food service. The day I visited, Mousaka and Baklava were on the menu.

In college I worked as a “heavy” (as did most of the rugby team) at a 120-bed treatment center for emotionally disturbed children, so I have a pretty good understanding of what the staff at Urban Peak does. They should be commended for their work.

I spoke with Jerome and Evan, two young men who were at the facility. Jerome was kicked out of his house. Evan’s family moved to California to live in a family member’s back yard. Evan decided he was better off staying here but didn’t have anywhere to live.

Both Jerome and Evan said that if you follow the program, it will help.

When I was their age, even if I wasn’t the best kid, I still had the ability to dream about what I would one day do.

I never thought I would be a business journal publisher in this great community. But I fear that some of these kids might have lost the ability to dream. They have to think more about staying alive and where their next meal is going to come from. Thanks to Urban Peak they can get the assistance to get back on their feet.

Urban Peak measures its impact by the number of homeless youth exiting street life.

In 2003, 314 clients elected to begin the process at Urban Peak. Of those, 99 clients have transitioned into a positive outcome – with 28 getting an apartment of their own. Thirty-four transitioned into another independent living situation, 11 entered an approved foster/adopt placement and 26 returned home.

Urban Peak is just one of the organizations making a difference every day in our community. I really respect the job McIlwee is doing, and I encourage you to support Urban Peak.

If you are interested in volunteering or becoming a mentor, please call 630-3223.

Thinking back to my teen years I guess I am pretty lucky my parents were supportive. I am not sure I would have been. Thanks Mom and Dad.

Lon Matejczyk is publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at lon.matejczyk@csbj.com or 329-5206.