Two YMCA staff members began a five-day, 125-mile walk from Long Beach to the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego Monday in an attempt to increase awareness of the experiences of runaway and homeless youth.

The second annual “Solidarity Journey” by Justin Lipford and David Baker coincides with National Runaway and Homeless Youth Awareness Month and is part of the YMCA’s “Rooted in Community” campaign, which was described by Krysta Esquivel, the vice president of social services for the YMCA San Diego County, as “meant to create space for our communities to envision what is possible when we invest in young people experiencing housing instability or homelessness, and what happens when they feel seen, heard and supported.”

The walk will also include discussions in Anaheim, Oceanside, Ocean Beach and San Diego seeking to raise awareness for youth homelessness on a regional and statewide level.

Lipford, the director of community engagement for YMCA of San Diego County, and Baker, the program director for Housing Our Youth at the YMCA of San Diego County, began their walk at 9 a.m. at the YMCA Fairfield Family Branch.

Lipford and Baker walked 16 miles to the Covenant House in Anaheim where staff from YMCA San Diego County and Covenant House and Anaheim area residents had a community conversation, including what can be done collectively to influence systemic change, Esquivel said.

Homelessness impacts one in 10 people ages 18 to 24 in a year, and one in 30 adolescents ages 13 to 17 experience homelessness without a caregiver, with non-white and LGBTQ youth disproportionately impacted by homelessness, Esquivel said.

California accounts for more than one-third of the nation’s unaccompanied youth nationally, Esquivel said.

YMCA Youth & Family Services has nearly a dozen programs to help youth facing housing instability, including providing housing, essentials, safety, counseling, education and employment assistance, Esquivel said.

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