Life After Aging Out Of California's Foster System
Yesenia's life today is much different than just a few months ago.
"Not having to worry about where I'm going to sleep, not having to worry about if my kids have a roof over their heads, if they need food, if we're not going to eat the next day. I mean all that is not anything I have to worry about."
About four years ago, Yesenia aged out of California's foster system at the age of 18. From there, she says, her struggles began, staying where and with who she could.
"Being in different places and different people's houses and other people's rules and stuff like that is really hard and at the time I got pregnant. So I was pregnant and homeless and I ended up having my child and then I became homeless again. And it just went from there," Aranda said.
Without a job or a place to live, child protective services took custody of then, two-year-old Elijah. The family was separated for nearly a year.
Yesenia applied for programs like San Diego Youth Services (SDYS), which works to provide traditional housing for those in need. But there's a waiting list.
"They don't accept you right away so you kind of just have to wait it out and in the meantime, you've got to finds somewhere to lay your head every night," explains Yesenia.
Walter Philips is the chief executive officer of SDYS. He says no matter the issue, his staff works to link youth to help through one of their many programs from counseling and shelters to substance abuse and mental health treatments.
"We really do work with some of the young people where this is it and if we don't help them they're going to be lost," said Philips.
Philips adds that since most of the young people they work with have experienced some level of trauma, the program also offers trauma informed care.
"We work with some of the most vulnerable youth in our community. These are youth who are homeless, youth who have been abused and removed from their homes. These are youths who are struggling in neighborhoods where there are gang violence, domestic violence, substance abuse. The juvenile justice system," said Philips.
For Yesenia, she grew up in the foster system and says she never felt like she belonged.
"All that you want is to be like other kids you see running around playing with dolls, having friends, going to regular schools, but you're always an outcast. You're labeled you're no longer normal so that makes it hard for you. It just sucks," said Yesenia.
Leaving the group home for what she calls the "real world" was even harder, until she got a call from SDYS, telling her there was an apartment for her and her family at "Take Wing."
"Often times, we're the last stop for young people and if it's not for us and if we don't intervene and if we don't provide those services and we do everything we can we don't' give up on them, their next stop is the streets or even worse, it could mean their life," said Philips.
Philips has seen what can happen when an at-risk youth gets help. He and his wife have three children, including a foster child.
"Every single kid in San Diego should have the same opportunities that they've had, and that's what we strive for. To give them a chance to have a future," said Philips.
Yesenia now has a full-time job and a home for herself and her three-year-old son and four-month-old daughter. She's also getting comfortable with the idea of looking beyond surviving, to setting long-term goals.
Thanks to her hard work and the help of SDYS, Yesenia plans to become a social worker to help kids like her.
"It's very helpful and it makes me feel so much more relieved and I couldn't be more grateful for it," said Yesenia.