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Denver's Urban Peak is nearly ready to open larger youth homeless shelter, despite $2 million setback

Joe Rubino, The Denver Post on

Published in News & Features

DENVER — The mission of a new 60,000-square-foot, 136-bed shelter for homeless youth in south Denver is evident in its layout, which on two floors features dormitory-style transitional housing divided into six “neighborhoods.”

Young people with shared experiences and needs will live together in clusters at Urban Peak’s shelter on South Acoma Street — including residents who have left foster care, who are in recovery for addictions, or who are either pregnant or already parenting children of their own. Christina Carlson, the organization’s CEO, and city housing officials say the building sets a new standard for spaces built to serve homeless youth, with a design aimed at meeting the needs of people dealing with trauma.

“Youth are different — and they need something different,” Carlson said of the shelter, dubbed the Mothership, which is set to begin opening in July.

The building is the result of eight years of planning and financial scrounging. It is replacing an outmoded predecessor that stood on the same land and offered just 40 beds. There have been hurdles, the most recent of which was a legal ruling on a labor issue that added more than $2 million to the project’s bill.

But Carlson is committed to looking past the challenges and focusing on the possibilities of the all-in-one shelter, transitional housing and support facility.

For all the money the city and its nonprofit partners spend each year on tackling homelessness, Urban Peak plays an often-overlooked role.

 

The organization, which had operating expenses of over $10.3 million in 2023, holds multiple city contracts focused on youth homelessness and housing services. One of those contracts was expanded by $910,000 this year to support emergency shelter and case management for roughly 800 individuals and households. The organization served 937 young people in various capacities in 2023, according to its year-end report.

Urban Peak’s value is in its focus on helping some of the most vulnerable people on the streets. Jamie Rife, director of Denver’s Department of Housing Stability, says one of the most telling signs that someone is at risk of becoming homeless in the future is if they have experienced homelessness at an earlier stage of life.

“If we can stop it when they’re young,” she said, “they are less likely to experience it as an adult.”

Once the Mothership opens, Urban Peak will expand age eligibility for its 24-hour services beyond people who are 15 to 20 years old; those will now be open to clients as young as 12 and as old as 24.

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