By Vanessa Miller Camera Staff Writer
Posted: 11/10/2010 07:03:25 PM MST
A growing number of teenagers in Boulder and Broomfield counties are being counted as homeless or runaways, and those teens now have to find shelter at organizations in Denver, on friends' couches or on the streets.
The need for a homeless shelter specifically for young people in the Boulder County area is becoming dire, according to homeless advocates, prompting a Boulder-based youth organization to open the area's only overnight emergency shelter for teens at 3080 Broadway.
Attention Homes' new Runaway and Homeless Youth Program overnight shelter is expected to open in mid-December. In addition, the program will begin street outreach today and day shelter services as early as next week, said Allison Disbrow, development director for Attention Homes.
"The more people we talked to, the more we learned that there is no comprehensive service for homeless teens here," Disbrow said.
Area research has shown that one in five teenagers runs away from home before age 18, and 50 percent do so more than once, according to Attention Homes. About 30 percent of homeless youth are exploited for sexual purposes or other forms of human trafficking within 48 hours of leaving home, according to the organization's research.
About 200 teenagers are living on the streets in Boulder and Broomfield counties, according to Attention Homes, and the goal of the new program is to move them from the dangers of street life into long-term housing and family reunification, Disbrow said.
Attention Homes was founded in 1966 and has been focused on serving at-risk youth -- between ages 12 and 18 -- who are placed there by social services. That program still will exist, while the new emergency shelter program will allow teens ages 15 to 17 to come and go as they please on a day-to-day and night-to-night basis.
Staff members said they're petitioning the state to let children as young as 12 use the emergency shelter.
The overnight shelter will be able to fit up to 12 teens a night, and Disbrow said about 25 kids will be let into the day drop-in center, which will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
"During the cold, we anticipate some overflow needs," she said. "We are trying to establish some relationships with downtown churches that could provide overflow services for us."
The teens won't be mixed with overflow shelters that already exist for adults turned away from the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.
"It's not safe to mix kids with the adults," Disbrow said.
The day and overnight programs will provide food, clothing, showers, laundry, Internet access and beds for the teenagers year-round, she said. They also will offer counseling services and possibly medical care, legal aid and mentoring, Disbrow said.
Today, when program officials hit the streets to find homeless teenagers, they will bring blankets, rain ponchos, socks, hats, gloves, sack lunches and other survival necessities, said Dougal Neralich, program manager for the new Runaway and Homeless Youth Program.
"We are really just trying to get our name out there and trying to get them some help," Neralich said.
Joy Eckstine, executive director of Boulder's Carriage House, said the new teen program is greatly needed, as she sees young people stop into her adult day shelter all the time.
"It's going to be fabulous and help so much," Eckstine said. "We see lots of young people every day. We have allowed them in so they can get access for resources, but it's very clear that it's not a good environment for them being around older homeless people."
Many of the young people get taken advantage of -- especially the young girls.
"They get surrounded by older men who offer to keep them safe but then ask them, basically, to trade sex for protection or a place to stay," Eckstine said.
The teen shelter, she said, will be a "much safer, more pleasant environment for them."
Peter Salon, 22, who lives next to the new teen shelter, said he's fine with the service being offered so close to his home.
"If they don't have a place to live, it's a good thing that someone's taking care of them," Salon said.
Read more: Boulder shelter to open for growing number of homeless teens, runaways - Boulder Daily Camera