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Growing problem of unaccompanied homeless youth on the Central C - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Growing problem of unaccompanied homeless youth on the Central Coast

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If you think high school can be tough, imagine being a student who has nowhere to go when the day is done, no moral support from parents, no safe place to do homework. That is the harsh reality for hundreds of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara County high school students, according to educators.

These teens are classified as unaccompanied homeless youth. They can't stay in a homeless shelter because they are under 18.

Some bounce from home to home - couch surfing or using a spare room for a night or two. For others, it's life on the street.

"I would ask friends, "hey can I stay with you?" I was fortunate to have really good friends," says a teenager who goes by Felipe.

When Felipe was a sophomore in high school, he left his parents' Paso Robles home.

"When you are out there, you are wondering when you are going to eat next," he says.

Months went by, during which he wasn't sure where he would sleep or wash his clothes to go school the next day.

"I only had one pair of shorts and a pair of sweats," said Felipe.

For Felipe, choosing to be an unaccompanied youth was the right choice - escaping an abusive situation. He says he coped by using marijuana, spent some time behind bars, and was constantly on the move.

Felipe is not alone.

"Our community is not unique in the fact that, in the U.S., there are about 1.5 million unaccompanied youth each year," says Jessica Thomas, the program coordinator for San Luis Obispo County Office of Education's Homeless and Foster Youth Services.

Tackling the growing problem of unaccompanied homeless teens in our community and across the nation is complicated. Several plans are in the works to try to help these kids, including more group homes and the Central Coast Dream Center, which is a volunteer host program.

In the meantime, Felipe's way for forward is motion - his way of letting go of memories that don't serve him. Now his family consists of his aunt and uncle in Atascadero, the place he calls home.

"Right now I have a job and I graduated high school six months early. I am on probation and I have completed all my terms and conditions," Felipe says.

Felipe plans to go to college in the fall. He says he is saving money - and dancing. He'll perform at Cal Poly in a few months.

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