Rock solid approach to ending teen homlessness

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Local health care providers, representatives from nonprofit organizations and other community leaders took another step to end youth homelessness this weekend at the first annual Colorado Connected Youth Jam.

The walls of Tivoli Turnhalle on Denver’s Auraria campus were rocking Sunday evening as people from around the metro area gathered to raise money and awareness for the cause. The show was also intended to connect homeless or at-risk youth with information on healthcare, local shelter facilities and other resources. 

The 180 Street Outreach team, a part of Mile High Behavioral Healthcare, hosted the event, which featured performances from eight local musical acts that shared family-friendly messages with the crowd. Started last October, the Outreach team is based out of the Comitis Crisis Center in Aurora and helps provide youth ages 12 to 22 with information and resources like water bottles and hygiene supplies.

Caitlin Arce, one of two outreach counselors who head the Street Outreach team, said that organizers were hoping for a stronger turnout at the jam, but were still pleased with how the event unfolded and the messages it relayed. She said gatherings like the jam are necessary to shed light on an extremely slighted population of kids.

“I think people are really unaware of exactly what the need is,” Arce said. “There are so many kids who are runaways and homeless in our community. In Aurora, it’s a really invisible population.”

There are approximately 900 homeless youth in the Denver-metro area, according to a Comitis moment-in-time survey conducted in early 2013, though Arce said the real number is likely much higher.

“The survey is only able to paint a partial picture,” she said.

The event also had a strong emphasis on the prevention of youth sexual trafficking, a cause for which Comitis received a specific grant last year. Event organizers and volunteers offered resources and information specifically regarding sexual health, as youth who are trafficked are at a higher risk for sexually transmitted diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV. Approximately one in three runaway/homeless youth are sexually exploited or propositioned within the first 48 hours of being on the street, according to Arce.

Though based in Aurora, organizers from Comitis wanted to host the event in a central, metro-area location where all attendees could feel safe and comfortable.

“At the end of the day, we want to provide a venue where these populations feel comfortable, can receive services and be entertained,” Comitis spokesperson James Gillespie said. 

In less than a year of existence, the Street Outreach program has been prolific in providing runaway/homeless youths with information and resources. From Sept. 30, 2013 through March 31 of this year, the program distributed 87 survival-aid backpacks to runaway or homeless youth. The packs contained hygiene supplies like deodorant and shampoo as well as bilingual brochures on other resources Comitis offers. The team handed out 4,292 total brochures in the same six-month time frame.