Georgia: When you think of Linda Vista, you think community, culture, ocean views, and beautiful surroundings. I mean, Linda Vista literally means beautiful view. Sadly, there are in fact, some sights that aren't too pretty. Now, imagine yourself not having a home or even resources to food, or someone you can look to for help.
Walter: Yeah. I want to share a story of a young person who epitomizes exactly what you're talking about. We had a young man named Oscar, and Oscar was 16 years old when he left his home. His home had substance abuse, and he ended up on the streets and ended up in our emergency shelter. So we had him at age 16. After he turned 18, he went into our transitional living program here where he could have an apartment and begin to learn the skills.
Georgia: That was Walter, the CEO from the San Diego youth and family services. Oscar didn't have the family or resources to even think about college. Thanks to this program, things could change for Oscar.
Walter: So he was able to get reconnected to school. He didn't have a high school diploma, so we got him reconnected to school. From there, he got into community college, we got him his first driver's license. There's a picture of him with his first driver's license. And then he started working. And so one of the things he did was became a peer worker within our agency and was starting to give back. Well, Oscar then decided, it's not enough that I got the help. I want to make a difference. So Oscar got involved in leadership and said, I want to make a difference in terms of advocating for young people throughout our state. So Oscar got on the statewide board that I'm on, that does youth advocacy in Sacramento. So he's up in Sacramento meeting with legislators, trying to drive policy around, making sure that our youth are taken care of. He worked as a peer worker helping other youth get off the streets, helping them get the housing, helping them get the resources they need.
Georgia: It is so incredibly great how this San Diego service could get Oscar back on his feet. But unfortunately not every story has a happy ending.
Walter: He really made an impact from 16 to 21. Oscar, unfortunately at age 21, he died in a car accident, but he left such a Mark, not only with our agency, but with people up and down the state. Up in Sacramento, they have a scholarship award that's offered to youth under Oscar's name. We have an award here under Oscar's name, and he's been recognized. In that very short life that he had, he made a difference and an impact. And it started with a young person who was on the streets, homeless.
Georgia: The youth of Linda Vista really are facing so many hardships that many community members are unaware of.
Walter: We're seeing that our youth who are ending up in the streets or ending up in the communities, are actually now becoming victimized. So we're seeing young people who are forced into gangs, forced into the drug trade and worse yet is that we have one of the largest problems of human trafficking in San Diego. And that actually is happening with our youth. And so, we have a program that operates specifically for girls, and boys, but mostly girls who are being victimized by the gangs and by pimps into a life of being sexually exploited, at the age of 14, is the average age that they're coming in. And San Diego is one of the biggest markets, unfortunately, for human trafficking in the nation. I think we're third or fourth in the nation for human trafficking,
Georgia: It has to be really hard for these people that, you know, are working day in and day out, trying to help our youth, with not only homelessness, but the issues of human trafficking. How do these people stay so positive when trying to fix these really heartbreaking issues?
Justin: I think that if I'm a community member and I'm working hard and I have my nine to five and I come home and be with my family kids, and I'm just tired. I want to put my energy and just to relax a bit with my family, I could see how it would be hard to find and muster the compassion and empathy to look at these other young people.
Georgia: That was Justin from the YMCA Youth Services.
Justin: When I first got this job, it was three and a half years ago. It was right on the cusp of having my second child, which is my son, Samuel. And so, having a son, being a director of a program where there's also moms and dads with little kids here, it really harnessed my perspective and dialed it into the amount of energy it takes to be a parent and how much more is needed to be a good parent. Right? So, you know, I see these moms specifically, these moms, 18, 19 year old with one, two kids, they're in our programs, and, you know, hearing their kids crying, right? Hearing the level of need that the kids have, cause they're little kids. And seeing these moms, trying to find the ability to be present and be there for them and how much they really care to do that, how much they want to be a mom is the most inspiring thing for me. When I see the mom, I see the kid. And when I see the kid, I think what's next for this youngster? What's the pathway for that young person, right? And so we had a conversation the other day about wealth. Like what is, what is wealth? We had a friend from Merrill Lynch come in here and he was kind of expanding their mindset. Right? And the one thing that he said that every mom at the tables had perked up, is he said, can you imagine if your kids could go to college? I just think it's important when I see that, it's a reminder that we have to be thinking about them as parents and their capacity and how they need support, but not forget that they just want the same things that we want. They want the absolute best for their children. They want what they did not have. And so that, that's my, that drives me every single day, man. I mean, I come here Monday through Friday, I get here at nine o'clock leave at who knows when. I do it, like my colleagues do it, like everyone within this network does it because we are so invested and really making changes for their generation, the next generation. You know?
Georgia: It is so incredibly inspiring to see that the Linda Vista community is working to help youth homelessness. It really shows that change is possible. Walter said it best...
Walter: It just shows you, if you take a young person, you provide them an opportunity, you give them the skills and the teaching and the coaching that they need to be able to build on their strengths and assets, they can become very successful.