David, a young man who lived at YouthCare many years ago, still remembers the holidays he spent with us. His story renews a bit of hope in all of us.

David is a graduate student at the University of Washington studying to get his master’s degree in social work. But over ten years ago, he was a homeless youth living on the streets of the University District.

When he was young, David battled a childhood of constant instability and family conflict. At thirteen, he entered the foster care system. The next five years were a blur, and, like so many other youth in foster care, he left the system on his eighteenth birthday with little resources or support to make it on his own. The streets became home.

He found temporary refuge staying in abandoned houses with friends. He endured—until witnessing the death of a close friend. It was a wake-up call. “I knew I had to change course,” says David. “I didn’t want to be homeless and die at age thirty”

The first step to stability was getting an ID, a necessity for jobs, housing, and school. A friend recommended that he connect with YouthCare’s University District Youth Center (UDYC) for help. At UDYC, David was able to get an ID, connect with services, and eventually move into Catalyst, one of YouthCare’s housing programs for young adults ages eighteen to twenty-one.

After years of survival and self-reliance, David said moving into Catalyst felt like culture shock: the stable structure, the supportive staff, even the clean mattress on his bed. It took time to adjust. Sometimes he would slip-up, forgetting to check the daily chore chart or missing curfew. But with the support of Catalyst staff, he gained coping skills to move beyond setbacks. It helped that his housemates were on a similar journey: “Everyone was trying to be a better version of themselves.”

Little by little, David started to reimagine who he was, and he began to dream about who he wanted to become.

He recalled his relationship with Connor, one of the most amazing YouthCare staff members he’d ever met. “He had the best stern voice,” David laughed. “When I messed up, he made me ask myself ‘Could I do better?’”

David took that question to heart and applied to Evergreen State College where he majored in social work and minored in music. When he graduated, he knew he wanted to come back to YouthCare to work with youth. Last year, he fulfilled that goal by getting a position at our under-18 shelter. Reflecting on his time at YouthCare, David reminisced:

“I remember when I lived at Catalyst, staff knew how big of a deal it was to be homeless and not have a place to go during the holidays. They always went the extra mile to make it special. When I came back to work for YouthCare, it was important for me to do the same—to make sure we gave the youth reasons to smile.”

Today, David has fully embarked on a new chapter. He is steadfast in his studies and shares a house with fellow graduate students. The life lessons he learned at YouthCare have stayed with him (he even replicated the same chore chart from Catalyst, word-for-word). He plans on becoming a therapist for youth in foster care—that is, if he doesn’t end up pursuing his Ph.D. first. It is a very different life from the first time we met.

Gazing out the window at the hustle and bustle of University Avenue, David admits that the fear of slipping back into homelessness follows him like a shadow. “All it takes is a series of unfortunate events. It can happen to all of us—rich families, poor families, PhDs—anyone, really.”

“I know my past experiences are never going away, but I want to use those experiences to help me with what I want to do in my future.”