SAN DIEGO — Sometimes convincing a homeless youth to leave the streets takes more than a hot meal, it takes trust and tune.
In this Zevely Zone, I visited Ocean Beach to profile the nonprofit organization called Doors of Change. I interviewed the program's music director, John January, who was holding a guitar.
"There is a little bit of a story to this song," said John.
He played "Wagon Wheel" by Bob Dylan which he says has become the calling card of America's uprooted youth.
"It's like their their national anthem," John said.
For nearly 20 years, the nonprofit has searched the streets for young adults who need help and a home. Doors of Change has helped place over 1,900 San Diego homeless youth in safe housing. Much of their success is attributed to their award winning "Taking Music & Art to The Streets" (TMATS) program in Ocean Beach. This program builds trust months sooner than typical outreach. Last year alone, they placed 90 homeless youth in safe housing and 39 youth got jobs as a result of TMATS.
"It's truly amazing to me. It's the American success story. We can all succeed regardless of where we come from," said John.
Doors of Change starts with the basics.
"We say to them, 'would you like some water? Would you like some white socks?' We do laundry service, people get haircuts, they get free clothes, free shoes," said the program founder Jeffrey Sitcov.
He says he has found the majority of these kids don't want to be homeless,
"Their parents are drug addicts, their parents are alcoholics, they are LBGQ kids, they are on the streets - they get kicked out because they are gay," said Jeffrey.
Just like the kids who needed a home, so did the nonprofit organization so the Episcopal Church Center in OB has allowed Doors of Change to use the space rent free for more than six years. It's there where the youth find a meal and music.
"They have amazing talent, they just don't know it," said Jeffrey.
Every person who completes the Doors of Change program is given an instrument.
"They have to earn the instrument. They have to come for six times. We don't give it to them - they earn it," said Jeffrey. He said 340 people have done just that.
"Ukulele, mandolin, guitar, violin, drums, keyboards," said Jeffrey who said the kids get their choice of eight instruments.
The program is funded in part by selling memorabilia signed by music moguls.
"Elton John, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana, Bruce Springsteen," said Jeffrey. "We have raised $865,000 in music memorabilia that has helped fund our program for 18 and a half years now."
Nearly 2,000 kids have left the streets and been placed in safe housing. Just like the song "Wagon Wheel," the kids were forgotten until music brought them back.
"This is a song of Bob Dylan's that was a throwaway of his," said John January.
Doors of Change is hosting a Concert of Hope starring three-time Grammy Award winner Los Lobos at Spreckels Theatre on Jan. 18, 2020. One of their former homeless youth will speak at the concert. If you'd like information about the concert or want to support the program go to www.DoorsOfChange.org.