San Diego YMCA Workers' Unique Journey Calls Attention to Youth Homelessness

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Two YMCA employees have embarked on a unique three-day journey to call attention to the issue of youth homelessness.

The pair has walked and used public transportation for 55 miles, stopping along the way at various checkpoints to raise awareness to what they call a "hidden problem."

According to the National Network for Youth, San Diego has the nation’s 7th largest population of unaccompanied homeless youth between the age of 16 and 24. There are approximately 1,500 homeless youth currently in San Diego County.

The issue has become a passion for Justin Lipford and David Baker.

“I believe our community is aware of these opportunities. I believe in our community man. They’re going to jump in,” said Lipford, 43, Director of Community Engagement for YMCA Community Support Services in San Diego.

For Baker, the issue of youth homelessness strikes a personal nerve. He’s part of what he calls "generational poverty."

“My grandmother was born into homelessness. My mother was born into homelessness, and so inherently, that’s where I ended up,” said Baker, 26, Program Director for Housing Our Youth at the YMCA.

It was Baker’s bout with homelessness that brought the two together.

“I was 21 years old. I had been in homelessness my whole life and I had been sleeping in my car for about nine months. Every door that I knocked on for housing closed on me. And there was one door that opened. And it was Justin’s program with the YMCA,” said Baker.

It’s with that personal backdrop that the pair embarked on a three-day trek that started in Oceanside on Monday. By Tuesday, they were in Ocean Beach. On Wednesday, they paused outside of the County Administration Building, where Supervisor Nathan Fletcher acknowledged their efforts and offered a proclamation.

“To officially commend the work you’re doing and declare November 2021 to be California Runaway and Homeless Youth Prevention Month throughout San Diego County,” said Fletcher.

Along the way, the pair has met with the homeless to offer messages of support and care packages.

“I approach these conversations curious and just with the only intention of sharing love, to be honest with you, man,” said Lipford.

The pair will end their journey in San Ysidro Wednesday, hoping their effort leaves a lasting and meaningful message.

“There’s still a very active problem that we’re looking to contain in youth homelessness. So while we’re bringing this joy, this energy, we also want to bring a message that this conversation doesn’t end today,” said Baker.

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