COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.– If you’re walking around downtown the night of Nov. 18, you might see a bunch of people camping out in sleeping bags and tarps. There’s a good chance these people are there to raise awareness for homeless youth through the annual Night Out project hosted by The Place, an organization that shelters and supports young people who experience homelessness.
According to The Place, out of the total population of those experiencing homelessness in El Paso county, about one in 10 of them are young people.
“In 2021, we’ve helped close to 650 youth through the various programs that we have at The Place,” said Shawna Kemppainen, executive director at The Place. “What we know is that in any given month there are over 300 young people experiencing homelessness.”
This will be the 8th annual experimental project The Place has put on, and it occurs in November during national runaway and homeless youth month.
“When we raise awareness, it just helps people understand that this can happen in any family for a variety of reasons that you fall into homelessness,” said Kemppainen.
November tends to vary in temperatures and weather. Thursday night, Nov. 18, temperatures got below freezing. Kemppainen said, that one night it was around three degrees outside. But volunteers and participants said it’s all part of the real life scenario that youth experience.
“They deal with this countless nights,” said Nastassia Idahosa, development officer for the project, “so I can do it for the one night for sure.”
But, according to Kemppainen, often times cold isn’t the worst thing that homeless youth have to deal with on a daily basis.
“For the young people who we’re working with, they’re afraid of facing assaults at night, they get harassed,” Kemppainen said. “So many of the youth we know actually will walk around most of the night — try to stay awake — so they’re not as vulnerable. And then they’ll maybe tuck away into corner come sunrise.”
The night starts out with a 2-hour long program and at 9PM participants will head out to the sidewalks and patches of grass to set up their sleeping bags where they will spend the night.
This project happens every year and if you’re interested in getting on board or donating, you can check out their website here for more information.