Breaking Point

‘Bring the Doctor to Them': Telehealth for Homeless Youth Becomes Focus of San Diego Non-Profit

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A San Diego organization has transformed the way it serves the teen and young adult homeless population after drastic changes brought on by the pandemic.

For decades, Doors of Change operated a center in Ocean Beach, offering free music lessons there in hopes of connecting with homeless youth and eventually connecting them to resources and housing.

“They kind of come to us broken,” program director Joanne Newgard said. “To survive in society, you do need a phone, you need an address. If you're applying for a job, you can't really put down ‘I live in my car.’  So we have tried to give them as many options as possible so that they can have successful lives and that they can make better choices.”

But the pandemic forced Doors of Change to close its center, leaving the group with no central location.  So they began to prioritize outreach efforts, with teams canvassing the county several times a week and posting flyers about their services.

“What we realized right away is that we kept getting phone calls,” Newgard said, “So we knew there was still an issue, we knew they were still in need.”

Door of Change founder Jeffrey Sitcov says they’ve also seen an increase in the number of young homeless people seeking help for mental health issues since the pandemic started.

”The biggest thing is that it really is a huge issue for these kids emotionally. They have such pressure being homeless as it is then having a pandemic on top of it.  It puts a lot of pressure on these kids,” Sitcov said.

“We said, we've got to do something about this.  If not, they're going to commit suicide. You know, drug overdose,” Sitcov said, “There's so much pressure on them. So we said, let's bring the doctor to them.”

In order to do that, they started a new program called YES, or Youth Emotional Support.  The goal is to connect the homeless with mental telehealth services. The organization will pay for cell phones or laptops, and then help the homeless youth navigate the complicated mental health care system in order to get treatment.

Doors of Change is hosting a benefit concert to raise money for those new efforts to help homeless youth.  The band Three Dog Night will perform at the “Concert of Hope” on June 30th at the Moonlight Amphitheater in Vista.  For tickets, you can visit this website: https://doorsofchange.org/

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