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Youth Success Stories

San Diego Youth Services has helped more than 797,000 youth since our founding in 1970, including youth struggling with homelessness, family conflict, abuse and neglect, bullying, mental health concerns and substance abuse.

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These strong youth are inspiring others by sharing their stories.


John arrived at the San Diego Convention Center shelter at the beginning of the pandemic.

He was experiencing homeless and in need of help, and he was struggling to find support and direction.

John was connected with San Diego Youth Services at the Convention Center shelter, where our team worked around the clock to move youth out of the shelter and into more permanent housing.

With our support, he was able to move out of the shelter and into a safe place through our transitional housing program.

This was a turning point for John, and since then he has been very committed to making healthy changes in his life. He has been able to formulate and work on his list of goals with our support. One of his main goals was to find steady employment.

He has surpassed that goal by being promoted twice already at the pizza shop he now works at. He says that the stability of having a safe place to sleep, in his own bed, has been life changing. He also enjoys cooking as a hobby and a way of ensuring his physical health.

John is consistently working to make his life all that he wants it to be, while working with the support staff at San Diego Youth Services.

*Name changed

Alona was in foster care since her earliest memories. She was moved from family to family before her mom was granted custody of her again at age 10.

It soon wasn’t the caring and stable life Alona longed for, however. Her mother struggled with addiction and would leave Alona home alone for months at a time. Her mother also struggled with prostitution. Alona tells of dropping out of school and beginning to “struggle with an addiction of my own to methamphetamine” while living out of hotels before her mother was arrested.

While alone, she found her way to our emergency shelter for youth. “The moment I stepped foot in that shelter everything changed,” Alona says. “I was instantly introduced to a family dynamic I had never experienced before. The staff there became the family I had longed for and I began to blossom. I had a routine and a family behind me to help me.”

With our support, Alona went on to join the San Diego Job Corps Center and obtain her GED and a certified nursing assistant certification. She got her first car and is now learning and practicing independent living skills in one of our transitional housing communities.

“I’d never imagined the possibilities I could have by just taking one step,” she says. “We do not look like what we’ve been through! Many children who suffer from youth homelessness are couch surfing, staying at parks hidden and STILL attending school. We are a hidden but very real population of youth who aren’t so clearly seen. SDYS is working to help the hidden population of youth like me.”

Samantha Benner, 23, was only 16 when she became homeless. When she found her way to our emergency shelter for youth, she was struggling with trauma and heavy drug and alcohol addiction.

Today, she describes being on the street as terrifying and the shelter as her first stable environment. She landed her first job at a dog daycare while at the shelter and is now an apprentice as a professional dog trainer. She is also sober.

“[The shelter] gave me the counseling and solid foundation I needed to become a successful member of society,” Benner says. “They helped me to find a place to live, find the treatment I needed and provided counseling. They taught me how to form the right priorities and how to take care of myself to get clean."

When I turned 18, I went to a treatment center and they helped me find transitional housing for LGBT youth. I will forever be grateful for everything they did for me and helped me do for myself. I now live a safe, beautiful and full life and thank San Diego Youth Services for all they do for young people in vulnerable circumstances and for giving us a chance for an amazing life.”

William* was really struggling during the pandemic, without a job, support or enough food to eat, and sleeping in the backseat of his car for many months. Luckily, William was connected to San Diego Youth Services, who helped him turn his life around.

On Nov. 24, 2020, William was connected with the staff members of one of our transitional housing programs, Youth Housing Demonstration Project. The next day, he was placed in our housing program.

SDYS provided him with housing and his own bed, as well as furniture, household items, hygiene products, and food on a weekly basis, while he stabilized his life. William was incredibly thankful to be part of our program and to have his own place to call home.

With our team’s support, William created a vision plan to map out his goals, including finding long-term housing. In a few months, he found a job and successfully graduated from our housing program and moved into an apartment where he was the primary lease holder. William is now thriving and has even traded in his old car for a Jeep Wrangler. *Name changed

Anna, 17, has been involved with our Youth Emergency Shelter five times during the past three years.

Anna and her family have struggled with homelessness since she was 10 years old, living on the streets of San Diego, in numerous family shelters and “couch surfing” between friends. At one point, Anna was suspected of being involved in sex trafficking.

During her final stay at the shelter, she worked with her case manager and social worker to pursue more permanent solutions and started therapy with our Counseling Cove program. The program provides intensive outpatient behavioral health services and case management.

Anna was awarded her dependency by the court system and is currently living with a foster family. She graduated from high school, has part time employment and plans to begin community college.

Noemi Jimenez has come full circle.

Once a homeless teenage mother, she has become a proud donor giving back. Jimenez, is a supervisor at Coronado Distribution Company, where the company gives each month to a charity of an employee’s choice.

Jimenez chose San Diego Youth Services for helping her with transitional housing, independent living skills and, ultimately, a new life for her family at a time when she needed it most.

“I wouldn’t have thought I could live by myself but San Diego Youth Services helped me. I know how to budget my money and plan. I’ve got this. I always tell my daughter about the program and how it helped me. I tell her about the importance of giving back.”

Jimenez’ advice for others who may be struggling: “Don’t limit yourself. You really can do anything.”