November 12, 2015
With November being National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, I had the opportunity to reflect on the plight of many of our most vulnerable youth. San Diego Youth Services (SDYS) is committed to providing safety and support services for all those youth who find themselves on the streets and in vulnerable situations. SDYS operates over 30 programs through 15 locations to over 20,000 youth annually.
Recently, I was walking downtown to the Civic Center with my wife on a Saturday night. There were dozens of homeless individuals lining the sidewalks with their sleeping bags. Cheri lived this life at age 15 when she ran away from home due to her step-father’s repeated physical violence toward her and her mother. “When I was homeless, I felt worthless, hopeless and I was really scared.” Cheri was further traumatized by the streets where she was repeatedly victimized and commercially sexually exploited.
A study released by the California Research Bureau in January 2010, showed that Cheri was not alone. She was one of the more than 250,000 youth ages 12 to 17 who experienced homelessness in California. Unfortunately, this problem has only grown worse. A national report just released shows that nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point in the past year. The problem is particularly severe in California, which has one-eighth of the U.S. population but accounts for more than one-fifth of the homeless children with a tally of nearly 527,000.
Fortunately, for young people like Cheri, San Diego Youth Services is committed to finding solutions to help at-risk youth. Because of the help Cheri found through SDYS, she successfully completed her stay in a long term group home, graduated from high school, has a steady job and will soon be moving into one of our transitional housing units.
There are hundreds of teens in San Diego who have not been as fortunate as Cheri and are still being exploited and victimized. For girls like Cheri, it is imperative we invest in services for homeless youth. We can either invest in youth like Cheri in helping them become successful, contributing members of society or we can pay for the high human and financial costs which result when these youth end up in emergency rooms, psychiatric wards or jail cells.
Youth homelessness is a major and tragic problem. The financial and human consequences of not addressing the problem are devastating. Now is the time for San Diegans, and all Californians, to declare homeless youth a priority. We must work together to stop the victimization and exploitation of youth as well as the other complex issues created from youth homelessness.
At SDYS, we have made it a priority to “do whatever it takes” to prevent youth homelessness. We encourage you to join us in this mission. One child living on the streets is one too many. We cannot turn our back on these youth nor expect that someone else is going to solve this problem for us. Step-up and make a difference. Together we can ensure that every young person in San Diego has a safe place to stay and an opportunity to rebuild their lives. Find out how you can make a difference by going to our website at: www.sdyouthservices.org.
CEO, San Diego Youth Services