Ex-Foster Child Hopes To Keep Program Alive

A young man recently released from San Diego County's foster care system is trying to keep the program that saved him alive.

At 16, Suamhirs Rivera was working at a restaurant in his native Honduras to support his family when he said he was kidnapped.

"Thirty-five days later, I found myself in the United States. I was sold to an American family … I don't know if I can say this … to be a prostitute," said Rivera.

Rivera said he was raped for weeks until the house he was at in San Diego was raided.

"They found me, 16 or so, and they found other people. I think they were girls from other countries," he said.

Rivera was then put into the county's foster care system, and a year ago he was released.

"When you get out of the foster care system all you have is your clothes."

But Rivera was not on his own because a transitional housing program funded by the county was there to get him off to a good start by splitting his rent, giving him furniture and guidance on how to take care of himself.

"(I learned ) how to clean my stuff, how to clean my bathroom, how to clean my kitchen, how to make my bed," said Rivera.

The program is available to foster youths for two years and before November it helped 170 kids countywide. When the state budget cuts for 2009 kicked in, 25 kids were kicked out of the program.

"Some of my friends who were in the program, they got kicked out and now they are in shelters," said Rivera.

If the state doesn't get $6.9 billion in federal funding for next year, the program will be cut entirely.

Rivera is trying to raise awareness to keep this program alive, he said it's the only way he and hundreds of other foster youths have a chance to live a better life.

Rivera currently works with a law firm that helps kids like him who have been smuggled into the U.S.

He works fulltime and sends money back to his family in Honduras.

Rivera also goes to City College at night, and said he wants to transfer to the University of San Diego to study law.