We met at the First Baptist Church on Grant Street in Denver on a Sunday late afternoon in November. As I walked in, a young fellow, maybe 19 or 20 years old was laying on a sleeping bag outside the door, waiting for the doors to open, so he could come in and receive a warm meal from the meal donor that day, a church group from Arvada.
Like many other people, I had never really interacted with homeless people, except by handing out a Dollar and looking the other way or hurrying on, so I admit I was a tad nervous, but I was mainly here for a meeting about graphic design with Maureen, who’s in charge of the Denver chapter of Standup for Kids. Standup for Kids Denver is part of a national 50c3 charity that aims to end the cycle of youth homelessness. Youth being anyone under 25 years old.
I was first approached by Standup for Kids Denver, because they needed a brochure designed and printed to be able to hand out. They were looking for a volunteer to design it and print it, because they explained they are an all-volunteer organization, completely dependent on donations by the general public.
The Denver chapter counts a handful of volunteers, who get carefully checked and vetted, before they’re allowed to go out on Tuesday nights on outreach trips downtown, to find young homeless people. They talk to them, ask them how they are doing, bring along any essentials they may need, try to provide guidance and support and sometimes food.
They also recruit a different volunteer group every Sunday to bring in a warm meal for homeless youth. They had a set location downtown for that, but that location decided not to allow any more groups in, so for some time they handed the food out in a park to then move into the First Baptist Church on Grant. However, this location proves to be too far to get to for most homeless people, who tend to congregate closer to the shelters. It’s hard for them to get all the way across town with all their belongings, to then have to make it back in time to stand in line for the shelters, so the plan is to move back outside in the park with the meals. Closer to the typical area for homeless youth in Denver.
As we talked, young folks streamed in from teenagers to early 20s. As we talked to them, it occurred to me how regular these kids are. They listen to music, they talk about home and what they’re into, and they have a laugh. Only when you start asking how they are doing and urge them to keep talking, the tears come out and the reality hits you that apparently a lot of shelters are selective who they admit. The transgender kid who got booted out of the house by the parents isn’t welcome in a number of shelters either. The young man, who is trying desperately to kick his drug habit to be able to have a relation with his 1 year old son, who is in foster care. Girls who had to put their baby up for adoption, because life on the street was impossible and too dangerous with a baby. Those kind of stories.
These kids aren’t easy to spot, because even though statistically 39% of the homeless population is under 18, they also try to blend into the crowds, because they know they can’t trust a lot of people, and they are a target for human trafficking, prostitution and drugs. Some may have come on the street as a result of those, others fall victim to those threats when they land on the street. With the staggering amount of drug use in (particularly affluent) High Schools, it quickly becomes apparent that these kids come from ALL walks of life.
Luckily the people of the Denver Metro Area are generous, so Standup for Kids receives a lot of donations in clothes, non-perishable foods, toiletries, sleeping bags, tents. Everybody has too much stuff anyway, kids grow out of clothes, and it’s easy to part from those. However, the organization has to store those donations until they can be handed out. They get handed out selectively to those who need it, so the goods don’t become street merchandize.
Storage is not free. Standup for Kids Denver was lucky to find a free space temporarily in a relatively new storage company, but as of the end of February 2016 they will need to find a new location. They tried to find a free place. There is none.
From volunteer graphic designer I now became the volunteer fund raiser. To make it easy to deposit funds, I set up a Gofundme crowd funder online.
So I hereby ask you to give something, small amounts, big amounts, they all count and if you can’t donate, then please share this story and this link on your social media pages & profiles. If you share this, please use the hash tag #helpstandupdenver
The link is: https://www.gofundme.com/standupforkidsden