PHOENIX - More than a million and a half American children are homeless and many of them just fall through the cracks.
Meet a Valley teen who got off the streets and earned a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious school.
“I was living with distant family members and we sort of had some issues like everyone does,” Jose Elias said.
Elias, 18, moved back to the Valley almost three years ago with a very specific goal: to graduate from high school. But when his living situation didn't work out, he left and really had no place to go.
“The only thing I could think of was going back to Mexico and I thought if that's what I have to do, I've got to do it,” Elias said.
Fortunately a teacher at Cesar Chavez High School gave him a place to go, but that was only temporary. In November, he had to find a new place to live.
“I was freaking out,” Elias said. He found a program called Safe Place.
“They told us on Monday that we want you to be at QT,” Elias said. “So she took me there after school and then we made the call at QT.”
Elias got help, thanks to Quik Trip. The convenience store is one of many Safe Place locations that kids can turn to in the Valley.
“So the ability to walk into a Safe Place and get help and be picked up and brought to the shelter and then we work at reunifying then with a loving safe caring environments,” Derek Deegan said.
Deegan is with a non-profit called Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development.
“Over 40-percent of our young adults that come to us, come from the foster care system,” Deegan said. “So far a lot of these young adults it wasn't a good environment for whatever reason and they end up on the street.”
Tumbleweed has been helping abused, abandoned, troubled and neglected youth since 1972.
“I feel like I'm not stressed anymore,” Elias said. “I feel like I can be myself and that I just have many more opportunities.”
Elias has been living in this apartment as part of Tumbleweed's Young Adult Program. Not only does the program give him a place to live, but he is also learning how to be independent.
"Jose is an example of a very intelligent and articulate young person who just needed a momentarily lift as they transition from the position they're in to where they're ultimately going,” Deegan said.
The future looks bright for Elias. He has a full-ride scholarship to the University of Southern California. It’s something that might not have happened if Tumbleweed hadn't come along.
“I wouldn't say that it just saved me, but it kind of restored me into thinking that there are opportunities out there and that I don't have to be alone going through this stuff,” Elias said.
Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development
The center is located at 1419 N. 3rd Street #102 in Phoenix, AZ 85004. For more information call 602-271-9904 or go to Tumbleweed. you can also "Like" them on Facebook.