By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Most kids speak highly of Urban Peak. "They're here to help us," says nineteen-year-old Gumby, who has lived for two years on Denver's streets. "They're pretty nice."
Other teens, however, speak bitterly about Urban Peak, either because they have spent the allotted thirty nights at the shelter and can't go back for ninety days, or because they were kicked out for a problem behavior like fighting.
"The whole philosophy of Urban Peak is to help the youth get off the street, not maintain a street life," says Schwartz. "If they come in and they're entrenched in the street culture and the motivation isn't there, we try to get them to look at the life realistically. The most we can do is try to keep them safe until they get motivated."
But in the meantime, those streets can be mean. Although Del Maxfield, executive director of the Denver Rescue Mission, attributes the situation to "a mild turf war," he adds, "I don't think it's a matter of youth displacing the older homeless. It would be pretty difficult to displace some of these guys. They've been through more than these young people can imagine."
Although she's only 25, Angel serves as a parental figure to many of the homeless teens. "I consider myself Mom to about forty kids," she says.
For some, she's the only mom they've known.
Among these kids, stories about abusive stepparents and drunken mothers and fathers are practically the rule. "Anyone can become a parent," says Savage. "Just look at mine. I was raised to believe I was a waste of space."
Savage, dressed in a leather jacket, ripped jeans and two-weeks-unwashed socks, says he's not used to having as many friends as he's found in Denver. He often sits apart from the others. "I feel different," he says. "These are my friends. It's just that I'm used to being alone. Sometimes I feel like I have too many friends."
He grew up in Texas with his parents, who often lived on the streets. "We were always going in and out of houses," he says.
He doesn't know where his parents are now and doesn't really care. It's difficult for him to talk about his childhood. But after several conversations Savage decides to share something. The eighteen-year-old peels off his coat and shirt, revealing dozens of discolored burn patches on his back.
"Doctors have told me it will never go away," he says. "I remember it happening like it was yesterday. I was twelve. I was playing with my Hot Wheels and having a pretty good time. My mother stepped on my foot. The next thing I know, I'm getting hot grease poured on me. She was yelling at me to stay out of her way."
Sometimes he'll tell a newcomer to go back home. "If I had a home and half-way good parents, that's where I'd be," he says.
But many of them don't have homes to go back to. One eighteen-year-old says most of the children in his family are victims of sexual molestation. "I don't know why my mom wouldn't recognize what was going on," he adds. "She's not bad--she just wouldn't deal with this."
Gumby spent most of his childhood locked in his room. "They were just very strict, and that's how they dealt with things," he says of his parents.
Parents addicted to drugs and alcohol are the most common reasons children flee. "I talk to my mom, but my dad hates me," says Forest. "He drinks all the time."
"In many of these cases, I can't say these kids really screwed up for going out on the streets," says Urban Peak's Schwartz. "This whole society needs to take a hard look before they blame these kids for being homeless. In most cases, they left a worse situation than what they're living on the streets."
At noon one recent weekday, the dozen or so homeless youths who normally crowd Skyline Park haven't shown up yet. Only Savage ambles near the bus stop. "I've been up all night just walking around," he says. "It was a wild night--everyone was tripping."
Lack of money doesn't squelch the pervasiveness of drugs in this crowd. "When there's a will, there's a way," one young girl says.
Marijuana is common, acid is talked about frequently and a couple of youths show the marks of needle tracks.
At 1:30 p.m. three teenage boys arrive fresh from the noon feeding at Urban Peak. "I pigged out, but I'll take some of these," says Toad, eighteen, as he reaches for Savage's fries.
A half hour later a dark-haired teenager shows up with a box of fried chicken and sets it on a step. Soon ten teens are eating chicken. Not one asks where the food came from.
It's a typical day at Skyline. They bum cigarettes off one another. Some go off to spange, about six play Hackey Sack, but most just sit around and talk. Tonight they'll go to a club downtown where the sympathetic owner lets them hang out in the back room and play pool without spending money. He also lets them tag on the back walls.