Urban Peak wants to build a ‘mothership’ in south Denver to address youth homelessness

It’s one of 10 projects Rep. Diana DeGette earmarked for federal money in Congress’ recently-approved spending package.
5 min. read
A new sign and fencing installed outside Urban Peak, October 29, 2021.

Urban Peak opened its first shelter for youth experiencing homelessness in a prefabricated building in south Denver in 1998. The nonprofit planned to use the space for about 15 years as a one-stop shop with beds, healthcare and free tutoring. 

Twenty-four years later, the organization, which served around 1,000 teens and young adults last year, has well outgrown its "aging and overcrowded" building, said Christina Carlson, Urban Peak's CEO.

"We've milked the life out of it," Carlson said. 

The organization now hopes to level the site and break ground on a multi-million dollar new center this summer. The project, nicknamed the "Mothership," is slowly moving ahead with the help of $3 million in recently approved federal funding. 

It's one of 10 projects Rep. Diana DeGette earmarked for federal money in Congress' latest spending package. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill later this week. The cash should arrive at Urban Peak and other recipients this spring.

"There's no one-size-fits-all solution for homelessness," DeGette said during a press conference outlining the spending on Monday. "But all of these little projects together help to create a web of support for the most vulnerable in our community."

Urban Peak envisions Mothership as a campus providing case management and medical and mental health services to clients in addition to housing. The space would hold enough beds for 136 teens and young adults at once -- up from its current capacity of 30 residents. 

It will also allow the organization to start housing adults between the ages of 21 to 24, which it can't right now due to shelter regulations. Denver shelters can't legally house adults over 21 and minors in the same facility. (The new building will have separate wings.)

"It's a massive expansion," Carlson said. "It's exciting because we know that need is there." 

The city's overall numbers of people experiencing homelessness at any given time have crept up in recent years. About 180 people, or 5% of the total population, are unaccompanied people under the age of 25, according to the latest published count. 

Carlson said Urban Peak has seen an elevated level of need since the start of the pandemic. 

"I cannot emphasize enough how really brutal it is," Carlson said. "It's very different from two and a half years ago, from the mental health things we see as well as the substance misuse." 

The Mothership is just one of several Denver projects getting a boost from the latest federal spending package. The list includes $13.3 million in grants total, including $2 million for the city's stalled Stay Inn hotel-to-housing project. 

The city's Department of Housing Stability hopes to buy the old hotel and turn it into a temporary homeless shelter for about two years. The city would eventually convert it to long-term supportive housing for more than 150 people.

"(The federal funding) is one important piece of the puzzle," said Britta Fisher, Denver's chief housing officer. 

City staff are still in an extended period of due diligence working on the property overall, Fisher said, explaining that the city has been treating it like an impending real estate purchase, conducting inspections and the like. The hotel is still owned by a private LLC. 

Other projects include: 

  • Denver's Montbello FreshLo Project - $1.45 million for the city to construct 97 units of affordable housing in Montbello.
  • Center for African American Health - $1 million for the center to renovate its building at 3350 Hudson St. to add offices for mental health consultations, a technology room to provide job-readiness classes, and a teaching kitchen to provide community cooking classes on how to eat healthy.
  • Colorado Coalition for the Homeless - $2 million to construct a new recuperative care facility where those experiencing homelessness will be able to recover after being discharged from the hospital.
  • Tepeyac Community Health Clinic - $2 million to expand the Tepeyac Community Health Clinic in Elyria-Swansea to provide additional health care services to residents there. 
  • Denver Health - $1.2 million for Denver Health's Center for Addiction Medicine Project that provides training and assistance to psychiatric, substance abuse and mental health facilities in the region.
  • Jewish Family Service of Colorado - $500,000 for the Jewish Family Service of Colorado to provide vocational training programs to Coloradans disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
  • United Way - $100,000 for Mile High United Way's Bridging the Gap Project that provides supportive services to 18-year-olds transitioning out of the child welfare system.
  • Mi Casa Resource Center - $20,000 for the center to provide low-income residents education and skills needed to succeed in pursuing higher education.

Carlson expects construction to begin on the Mothership later this summer or early fall. The build is expected to take around two years to complete depending on supply-chain challenges and construction delays, she said. 

"The (federal funding) is one of many moving parts," Carlson said. 

Residents are eager to see the new project break ground. On Monday, Richard Eatherly, 19, stood in the crowd as Rep. DeGette outlined funding for the Mothership. 

Eatherly moved into Urban Peak's shelter two years ago, he said. 

"It's gonna be a great building, I think," Eatherly said, pointing out the balconies as his favorite feature. "When I first got here I thought (the shelter) was a warehouse. This building needs a whole new look." 

While living at the shelter, Eatherly started to learn how to fix bikes. He recently applied for a job as a repairman at a nearby bike shop with help from the shelter's staff, he said. He starts next month. 

"I'm working to get out of here," Eatherly said. "But I think the new building will be even better for other people like me."

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