Homeless youth seek refuge, healing in San Francisco

Lyanne Melendez Image
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Homeless youth seek refuge, healing in San Francisco
ABC7 is joining nearly 30 media organizations for the San Francisco Homeless Project to raise awareness about the issue. Young adults are among the most vulnerable in the homeless community. For decades they have flocked to San Francisco for refuge.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- ABC7 is joining nearly 30 media organizations for the San Francisco Homeless Project to raise awareness and find solutions for homelessness. Among the most vulnerable are young adults. They come to San Francisco seeking refuge and acceptance. But when they arrive, they struggle to find their way. In this report we find out who they are and why they come to the city.

RELATED: SF homeless project sets sights on help for young people

For decades, young people have flocked to San Francisco seeking refuge -- people like Audriana Montoya, who moved to the city from Montana.

When asked how she ended up in the Haight District Montoya replied, "It's kind of a place of refuge -- everyone kind of looks out for each other. We're sort of like the lost kids."

A report released in June found more than 1,200 people under 25 years old living on the streets of San Francisco.

"I was actually a foster kid," Montoya told ABC7 News. "I ended up getting adopted at 5 and just kind of facing quite a bit of rejection throughout my childhood."

RELATED: Oakland considers buying $14 million hotel for homeless housing

According to the city, nearly a quarter of the youth on San Francisco streets report they were in foster care at some point in their life. Many young adults, including Montoya, have struggled with substance abuse.

Psychiactric, emotional, and chronic health problems also play a large role.

"I had a tent that I used really only when it was raining," said former homeless person Phillip O'Donnell. "And I had a tarp and a sleeping bag."

O'Donnell says he's fought depression since he was 5. Seven months ago he boarded a bus from Houston and headed to San Francisco hoping to escape his unhappiness. "Homelessness is not really a choice, but it is a lesser evil if you are ata point where you are trying to kill yourself -- and that's what it was for me," he said.

O'Donnell found help and housing thanks to Larkin Street Youth Services.

"Young people who are experiencing homelessness are fleeing homes or communities where they haven't been safe," said Sherilyn Adams of the organization. "Either because of rejection, or abuse, or violence, because they were kicked out because they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered."

Nearly half of the homeless youth in the city identify as LGBTQ.

"I went to LGBTQ pride, and my mom saw it on Facebook, and because of that she kicked me out," said Yesi, who lived with her family in Daly City.

After being kicked out, she found herself homeless in San Francisco. "I just felt like I had nowhere to go," she said.

Yesi was lucky. She also found her way to Larkin Street and housing, but sadly, many do not. Nearly 90 percent have no shelter.

Click here to read about the need for a navigation center that caters specially to young adults.

Click here for more stories by ABC7 in connection with the San Francisco Homeless Project and click here to learn more about the group's efforts to raise awareness.