The homeless crisis in Orange County is getting help from a group that seeks out unaccompanied and at risk youth to find them homes, jobs and stability in an attempt to try to end the cycle of youth homelessness.
The goal of the nonprofit, StandUp For Kids, is to put youth who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless on the path to self-sufficiency. The volunteer-based organization in Orange County has helped more than 477 youth, ages 12 to 24 since 2018 said Carlia Oldfather, the program's director of operations.
"We're seeing a trend that when youth turn 18, they get discarded," Oldfather said.
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That is what happened to Jordan McClasky, a formerly homeless teen who was forced to leave her home at 18. She met Jake Cummins, now her husband, and they lived together in a car for two years.
"We had cars that we slept in, but they would break down, " said McClasky. "We'd be sleeping behind stores or wherever we could sleep."
It was while they were sitting outside a grocery store that Oldfather found the homeless newlyweds. She had a conversation with them that would lead to a life-changing connection.
"We had been told that we'd never get off the street," Cummings said. "(Oldfather) just asked us about our background and within 24 hours they got us off the street and in housing."
Oldfather said the program has two requirements. One is that participants remain sober. The other is that they commit to weekly mentor meetings that teach them relevant life skills that add to available programs that offer apartment and education support.
"For our youth to listen to us, there has to be a connection," Oldfather said. "It's that trust between mentor and mentee."
McClasky and Cummins are currently in sober living homes, and they hope to soon move out and start their new lives together using the tools they learned in Stand Up For Kids.
"We just wanted to better our lives, honestly," McClasky said. "Being on the streets wasn't fun - it wasn't easy."
Oftentimes, the youth helped in this organization become program mentors themselves. The nonprofit's administration said offering free services can put a strain on their budget without the help of donations and volunteers. To volunteer, visit their website for more information.
If you know anyone in Orange County who is need of the services StandUp For Kids can provide, call the organization's hotline at 888-365-4543.