Staying Strong While Going On

By Nancy Layne 

It’s a sunny day in downtown Denver as Fatima Kiass rides her bicycle from her apartment to Metropolitan State University where she is getting a Bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in human services. For the past two years, she has also been a client at Urban Peak. 

Urban Peak, a homeless shelter for youth age 15-24, helps its clients with education and employments skills, and has several housing programs. There is a drop-in shelter on 21st and Stout Streets with counselors, laundry facilities, and events like poetry slams and barbeques. The organization also has an Acoma St. shelter with 40 overnight beds for people under 21.

Photo courtesy of Fatima KiassKiass was referred to Urban Peak by her probation officer when she was 21, and she has found Urban Peak to be a big part of her success at MSU. “I love it, there’s a bunch of young people. The best thing is how close it is to campus,” Kiass said. 

 Prior to Urban Peak, Kiass was living out of her car while attending her college classes. This was not her first time experiencing homelessness. “I was first homeless when I was five,” said Kiass, “when my mom left my dad. We slept in parks and stayed at batterred women’s shelters till I was seven when my mom got an apartment. My entire life was worrying about paycheck to paycheck or if we were going to get evicted. I had to become an adult by sixth grade, taking care of my sister and mom. Nobody ever told me you need to go to school but I always knew it was the ticket to freedom.” 

Kiass got an apartment through Urban Peak’s housing program in February last year. Every Friday morning her caseworker drops by. Kiass finds these weekly visits therapeutic. 

Usually, birthdays are a time for joy, but for Kiass it means she will age out of receiving services from Urban Peak. When Kiass turns 24, she will no longer be eligible for rental assistance. “I was getting anxiety wondering where I was going to live in February while finishing my last semester,” she said.

Today, Kiass is worrying about February a little less. She just got hired at a job paying $13 an hour, which should cover her rent and living expenses. The fall semester will be challenging with working full-time while attending school. “I definitely am stressed, but every day that I feel like giving up and don’t, makes me that much stronger.” ■