October 05, 2015

A brilliant new effort is turning San Diego's homeless youth into business pros.

“Whatever it is that you can conceive, that you can do, it can be done."

  By Robbie Couch

San Diego: A city with sunshine, sandy beaches ... and plenty of young people with nowhere to call home.

An estimated 2,500 young people, or more, to be more precise.

Photo from 8 West, used with permission.

The region's sunny weather and coastline appeal is a big draw to homeless teens and young adults from across the country who are trying to better their lives, which has helped make San Diego one of the worst cities in the country when it comes to youth homelessness.

The problem is that much of the city's resources dedicated to helping the homeless go toward older people, as chronically homeless adults are less transient (and, in at least that one sense, easier to help) than their younger counterparts are, according to Eric Lovett, executive director of nonprofit Urban Street Angels.

That's where soap (yep, soap) comes in.

A new initiative is empowering homeless young people in San Diego to take control over their lives. Using soap.

A program recently launched by Urban Street Angels is helping young people get a hand up in the business world. It's called 8 West, and it's a pretty cool concept.

“If we can help with them from a young age — before they become chronically homeless — than we have a better chance at keeping them off the street," Lovett said.

Homeless teens and young adults in the 8 West program are provided with supportive housing, mentorship, and part-time employment making and selling (sustainable!) bath, spa, and shower products.

GIF via 8 West.

The goal is to help them build skills relevant to their interests so they can leave the 18-month program with solid work experience under their belts.

"They're going to start getting into all aspects of the business," Lovett told Upworthy, noting participants will soon be able to help in the marketing and sales facets of the line as well.

8 West products can be purchased online, as well as in local retailers.

Photo by 8 West, used with permission.

8 West isn't just helping homeless young people build careers, though. It helps them build hope, too.

These young people have been through a lot.

Some were rejected by loved ones because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and others were exposed to drugs as children and are now fighting addictions. Several are coping with mental health issues or living with PTSD, and the majority have experienced sexual or physical abuse.

And if you consider how many of them have been emotionally abused, Lovett says the number is "astronomical."

Photo via iStock.

But participants are getting the message loud and clear: They have the ability to overcome the cards they've been dealt.

"Whatever it is that you can conceive, that you can do, it can be done," Lovett said he tells the program's young people. "So don't shortchange yourself. Don't believe what you've always been told — that you're nothing — and that you won't amount to anything. Because you can do it."

The program is gaining in popularity and has no plans to slow down.

Right now, the new program is relatively small, with just five participants. But a new Indie GoGo campaign is aiming to expand 8 West dramatically so that 100 young people can graduate by 2020.

And, from the sounds of it, they shouldn't have any trouble finding willing participants.

"We have a waitlist right now," Lovett said, noting that participants' friends who are also homeless have seen the hope the program instills and want the same for themselves.

"We see the more people that come in and see what's happening, they want that [too]."

GIF via 8 West.

Support 8 West's fundraising campaign here, and learn more about the program in the video below: