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Story and photos by Henri Migala

November 23, 2021 (El Cajon) -- November is National Homeless Youth Month. Nearly 100 people participated in a rally and march in downtown El Cajon on November 17 to bring attention and awareness to this national crisis, including El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells, Councilmember Steve Goble, and representatives from various non-profit organizations and agencies dedicated to serving homeless youth.

According to the National Child Trauma Stress Network, “as many as 2.5 million youth per year experience homelessness. Along with losing their home, community, friends, and routines as well as their sense of stability and safety, many homeless youths are also victims of trauma. While trying to survive on the streets, youth are exposed to countless dangers, with an increased likelihood of substance abuse, early parenthood, impulsivity, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and a vulnerability to being trafficked.”

It is estimated that there are at least 1,500 homeless youth in San Diego, although some believe that the number is much higher since homeless youth are difficult to find and count.

“When we’re talking about transition-aged youth, which are 18-24, you really want to start earlier, because the sooner we start services and housing, the less trauma they are going to experience being homeless,” said Laura Tancredi-Baese, CEO of Home Start in East County.  She adds, “Fifty percent of homeless adults say their homelessness began when they were young.”

Home Start is the lead agency serving homeless youth in East San Diego County.

“We have 12 staff members in our office,” said Maria Badillo, with Home Start, “and each staff member can work with 15-20 clients. A client is a parent, and each client can have multiple children.”

Badillo continued, “We provide parenting services, teach them parenting skills, self-sufficiency skills, we try to connect them to resources in the community, we help them with their resumes and to look for work, and shelter.”

“Today is all about shining a light on youth homelessness,” said Tancredi-Baese, “so that everybody understands that these are all of our youth. We’re in this together, to make a dent. To make a difference. To help our young people. If we don’t help the youth, they’re going to be out here later. A lot of the homeless parents I work with disclose that when they were younger, they were also runaways, either from home or from foster care.”

Attending the event were two former homeless youth, Chloe (19), and Anna (19). “Before the HOY House didn’t know what I was going to do, I wasn’t on the right path,” shared Chloe, an endearing young woman who did not provide her last name. “Once I got connected, once they helped me get a job, and connected me with an occupational therapist, and helped me find events and groups to go to, I feel much better now. I feel like I’m going on the right path. Thank you to all the staff.”

HOY (Housing Our Youth) House is a program offered by Home Start in collaboration with multiple other service providers for only female TAY (transition Aged Youth), ages, 18-24, although the TAY program in general serves all people.

“Before Home Start, I was in a very bad and unsafe situation,” said Anna. “But after finding HOY House, I feel more safe and supported. I just feel blessed to have the staff around me, and I look forward to my future.”

One option offered by Home Start is to work with host families to temporarily offer homeless youth a safe place to stay. “The Host Homes Program works with community members with space in their homes to place homeless, housing insecure, and transition aged youth, in their homes,” said Kim Linman, Host Homes Program Coordinator for Home Start. “The program is intended to be temporary, and host-driven, until the youth can find a longer-term arrangement. Sometimes, this includes renting the room from the host family.”

“If a community member has a spare bedroom, we work with them to place a youth in their home and provide case management supportive services to both the family and the youth,” continued Linman.

Councilman Goble told ECM, “I’m here to support Home Start’s effort to raise awareness about homelessness, especially among youth, ages 13-24. We want to get to them before it’s too late.”

Goble continued, “Homelessness is one of the top issues people talk about in East County, especially El Cajon…It’s a concern.  And we’re doing our best to approach this from two approaches. One of compassion, to say let’s engage with people who are homeless, and ask , `What is your story?’ Because, everyone has a story. The goal is to improve their quality of life. At the same time, we have an obligation to our neighbors as well. We need to provide clean neighborhoods for them to enjoy their quality of life as well. It’s a balance that we find between the two, although we’re always trying to find that compassion angle first. We’re trying to lift the quality of life for everyone.”

When asked if East County has a disproportionate number of homeless people, Goble responded, “El Cajon seems to have always been more of a hub for the count for the number of people who are homeless, than other parts of East County. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that there are a lot of county social services here in El Cajon. There’s also transit, of course, to move you around the county.”

ECM asked Councilman Goble if he had any ideas for possible solutions for the widespread challenges caused by homelessness.

“Because there are many causes for homelessness, there needs to be many solutions,” said Goble. “We’re testing emergency cabins at Meridian Baptist Church. Six individual cabins that will be for people who might do better in a smaller setting. We also have East County Transitional Living Center, where we provide up to 28 days of emergency shelter. Then there’s the Interfaith Shelter Network, where they can go to next for two weeks. There are many different solutions because there are many different reasons for homelessness.”

The response to homelessness, especially youth homelessness, has changed dramatically over the decades.

“In the late 1970s, community members started to realize that youth who were running away from home, weren’t necessarily running to something,” said Tancredi-Baese. “Many times, they’re running from something. And there’s more of a recognition that some of the young people didn’t have a safe household or home. Running away used to be considered a status offense. They could be sent to juvenile home for that. We changed the law in the late ‘70s so that young people could no longer be sent to juvenile hall for running away.”

“Every youth is our youth. They belong to us, and we belong to them,” stated Tancredi-Baese, compassionately.

According to both Tancredi-Baese Councilman Goble, if you are interested in getting involved to help homeless youth, the best place to start is to go to the Home Start website, at www.home-start.org.

Videos of the program and rally for National Homeless Youth Month held in El Cajon:

East San Diego County National Youth Homelessness Awareness March, Nov 17, 2021 (part 1)



- Laura Tancredi-Baese, CEO Home Start

-  Chloe (19), former homeless youth

-  Anna (19), former homeless youth

-  Jennifer Mendoza, Lemon Grove City Council

-  Steve Goble, El Cajon City Council

-  Bill Wells, Mayor, El Cajon


East San Diego County National Youth Homelessness Awareness March, Nov 17, 2021 (part 2)



-  El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells

-  Carroll Lewis, El Cajon Collaborative

-  Bonnie Baranoff, East County Homeless Task Force

-  Rebecca Branstetter, Shelter and Housing Solutions Group, East County Homeless Task Force

-  Laura Tancredi-Baese, CEO, Home Start

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