SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — One step at a time, David Baker wants to help make sure no kid becomes homeless when they leave the foster care program.
"It's this impending doom," he says of the day they turn 18 and lose their support system. "It's sort of a dark and gloomy future. So how do you dream in an environment where your skies are covered in clouds and you know, it's not going to get better anytime soon."
That's why he's walking 125 miles this week, from the YMCA in Long Beach to the Border View YMCA in San Ysidro. He hopes his walk can raise awareness about the issues that plague this specific subset of people at risk for homelessness.
According to the National Foster Youth Initiative, 20% of kids in the foster system become homeless immediately after they turn 18. That number jumps to 31% in California. And 25% of kids in the foster system will experience homelessness at some point in the first four years after they leave the program.
Baker understands their situation. He grew up in a family that dealt with chronic homelessness. Then, as he puts it, he "twisted and tumbled" through the system for five years, starting when he turned 16.
He didn't find stability until he entered a YMCA program specifically for young adults.
"We know that foster youth need more support," says Justin Lipford, the San Diego YMCA Director of Community Engagement. He's joining Baker on the walk all week. "By the time they turn 18 and they're ready to look for any kind of housing opportunities, the YMCA is able to provide that."
The San Diego YMCA owns three apartment complexes specifically for young adults at risk of homelessness. They can house around 100 people at a time, putting them on a path to self-sufficiency.
"We give them the support and give them the counseling. We help them develop their networks, all in a hope that these things would be what they need, once they progressed to their 20s and 30s," says Lipford.
"For me, it's personal," adds Baker. "My number one hope is the community sees this as a community problem that requires community solutions...
"What we want to do is stop the flow. We don't want the future to include homelessness. So if we can work with these young people now, get them what they need now, we won't have to worry about them tomorrow."
Hundreds of people have joined Baker and Lipford on the walk throughout the week. Both men say they're feeling the pain of every mile, but it's worth it to help others live a better life.
"These programs are saving lives," says Lipford. "As long as that's happening, we're making progress."