By: David Baker
Like thousands of youth around the nation I was born into a life without stable housing due to generational homelessness. My mother was born into a life of homelessness and the same for her mother. Escaping the cycle of chronic homelessness is extremely challenging and often the reason that youth are left unaccompanied. My pursuit of a safe place continuously left me exhausted and empty-handed. I completed multiple homeless vulnerability assessments, but solutions never followed. I soon found that this is a common struggle amongst youth in San Diego. This understanding came from witnessing scores of my peers lining up for access to the free showers before classes started on campus. Seeing so much homeless youth led me to question if society had a solution for such a common issue. I would soon discover that organizations like The YMCA of San Diego County’s Turning Point Transitional Living Program, that provide youth with a safe place to live, are the answer.
I attended one of Turning Point’s bi-weekly orientations where every seat was taken and there were people standing in the back. I recognized the struggle around me and knew that an opportunity for stable housing was valuable and not to be wasted. Turning Point gave me a safe place to sleep and I began to receive individualized case management that helped guide my transition into self-sufficiency. I spent my time in the program developing a reliable support network and increasing my connection to resources. For the very first time in my life I felt like I had a foundation from which I could build a brighter future. I spent over a year doing everything I could to prepare myself emotionally, mentally, financially and spiritually for the uphill battle that comes with living independently in San Diego. Towards the end of my time in Turning Point I had truly hit my stride and successfully transitioned out of the program and into a life of self-reliance.
During my final months with Turning Point I applied for a position within the YMCA of San Diego County as a Support Specialist inside one of the youth development programs. I was hired for the role and currently spend my days helping underserved youth. I perform a variety of services including gathering resources that will help youth successfully transition into adulthood. Most of the time I refer participants to the very same resources that I used to end my own homelessness. I am also an advocate for runaway/homeless youth on a local and national level. Organizations like the National Youth Advocacy Council provide me a direct connection with policy makers to introduce perspective in matters that affect runaway/homeless youth. I am an example of what a safe place can do for someone and I am forever grateful for the opportunity and support that the YMCA of San Diego County has given me.
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David Baker is an advocate for equitable housing policy across the nation and works as a Youth Systems Navigator for the YMCA of San Diego County. As a survivor of extreme-poverty and intergenerational homelessness, he uses his experience to guide the creation and implementation of realistic solutions to address social issues like youth homelessness. His mission in life is to promote agency, access, and hope for marginalized populations in society. On July 16, 2019, YMCA Youth & Family Services staff David Baker testified before Congress at the House Committee on Education and Labor, Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services to support the reauthorization of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and is a host for YMCA Youth & Family Services Entrepreneur Web Series.