SAN JOSE, Calif. - Nearly 200,000 young people under the age of 18 are estimated to be experiencing homelessness in California.
Advocates emphasize that California has the highest number of homeless youth in the entire nation, and a significant portion of them are students.
"I was born into homelessness I tell people we don’t get to choose how we were born. I was born into a single-mother household who was struggling," said David Baker, who experienced homelessness from birth until the age of 16.
Baker believes that his experience built self-sufficiency and resilience.
"I can’t say that is the story for most. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people where I am from, my neighborhood, those who look just like me, they missed out, and they are lost in the wind," said Baker.
Now, Baker and his friend, Justin Lipford, are raising awareness about youth homelessness by walking, biking, and using public transit from San Diego through the Bay Area to Sacramento.
Both are associated with the YMCA of San Diego and, during a stop in San Jose, highlighted the often overlooked problem.
"The whole issue behind the solidarity journey is to uplift and bring attention and resources to the fact that throughout our state every night young people are on the street, experiencing homelessness, trying to survive. We have been connected to this work for a very long time and we want the community to know about it," said Lipford.
Participants visited the Bill Wilson Center in downtown San Jose, which offers transitional housing for homeless youth and serves as a resource hub for essentials like food and housing assistance.
"We have the highest per capita youth homelessness in the country. I mean these are terrible things to be known for. So clearly it is a crisis that our young people are facing. And these are people that we want to prevent from falling into chronic homelessness which is much more expensive and much more difficult – physically, mentally, and emotionally," said Josh Selo, the CEO of the Bill Wilson Center.
The Bill Wilson Center is actively involved in two programs specifically designed to support homeless youth. San Jose State University operates a "rapid rehousing program" to assist students experiencing homelessness. Meanwhile, San Jose City College, where an estimated 46% of students have experienced housing, food, or transportation insecurity in the past year, is launching a new guaranteed income program in partnership with the city of San Jose to help these students complete their education.
"Up to 50 students will be eligible for a $1,000 stipend monthly for a minimum period of 18 months," said Dr. Rowena Tomaneng, president of San Jose City College.
As they embark on the final leg of their journey, Baker and Lipford want to convey this message: "First and foremost we hope that young people that see this know that they are cared about, they are loved, and they have worth," Lipford said.