By: David Baker

When I decided to run away at 16 years old it wasn’t because I didn’t love my family, it was because I wanted a chance to escape my barriers and succeed on my terms. Like many young people who find themselves on the streets, I was born into a poor household that was run by a single woman, who also grew up in a poor household that was run by a single woman. That’s called intergenerational poverty and it goes like this - a child is born into poverty, they’re significantly disadvantaged in terms of education and regulation skills due to instability and family dysfunction, and so they also repeat the cycle. This reality increases the chances of participating in high-risk behaviors like crime or substance misuse and decreases the likelihood of  pursuing higher education and attaining gainful employment.

Let’s use my story as an example; my mother began providing financial support for her siblings when she was just 14 years old because my grandmother wasn’t able to afford it as a single mother. At that young age, her education was interrupted, which stunted her development and restricted her ability to establish herself. This was a situation that I was born into without any choice of my own.

Family dysfunction is a factor for many of the youth who find themselves on the streets. Helping these youth requires more than just providing them with a roof. They need a coach to help them develop vital skills like mindfulness and emotional regulation that will lead to their continued success. Our youth need an ecosystem of care and support that will sustain their transition into adulthood.

That’s why investing in youth is so vital because it serves to disrupt cycles of poverty and gives inherently disadvantaged youth, like me, an opportunity to take control of their future.

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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.