USD SON Among Sponsors of USD Just Read! Youth, Homelessness, Health

USD SON Among Sponsors of USD Just Read! Youth, Homelessness, Health

Nyla Vivas is a recent graduate of the University of San Diego; she earned her degree in psychology and one day, hopes to earn her PhD.  But just a decade ago, Nyla wasn’t even sure if she would have a place to sleep or something to eat.  She, her mother, and three little sisters were living on the streets of San Diego.


“There are people literally sleeping on the sidewalk,” Nyla said. “But we were sneaking into storage units. We were sleeping in our cars unsafely in parking lots. We would sneak into people's homes when we knew they were on vacation and we sneak into abandoned homes; we were basically squatting.”

Next week, Nyla will be among the speakers to address the homeless issue in San Diego during a virtual event sponsored by the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science, the Center for Educational Excellence, and the Urgent Challenges Collective.  It’s called USD Just Read! Youth, Homelessness, and Health.  

Nyla shares her story with anyone who will listen, and she encourages other homeless or formerly homeless young people to do the same. 

“I think that a lot of people do feel ashamed of it. Because it's not really common on our campus. But some students struggle with housing insecurity especially if they don’t have a stable family to depend on. And that’s why I’m encouraging them, because there is really big stigma on homeless youth. And there shouldn’t be.”

Nyla says her days spent on the street were not traumatic.  What was traumatic was the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother.  She attributes that to the stress caused by homelessness, but she also acknowledges her mother had other issues.

“I remember waking up one day,” Nyla said. “I was bruised from getting hit the night before. I was 11 years old and we were in a motel. It was very unsafe. There were a lot of predators and drug addicts. And I just wanted to run away but I couldn't because I had three little sisters with me. I remember walking around, you know, obviously I'm in pain, but I kept telling myself I'm going to go to college so I can change our lives and I can make a difference for us because my mom wasn’t.”

That’s when Nyla went into the foster system and because she was 13, she was separated from her sisters. Her stepfather was given custody of the younger girls and Nyla went to live with a foster family outside of San Diego.  But she came back as often as she could.

“That's kind of always what kept me going. My sisters. I always tell people when you see me, you see three little girls behind me because if it wasn't for them, I don't even know if I would be here right now and that's the honest truth.”

There are more than 1,500 homeless youth in San Diego County and they face a variety of daunting issues including abuse, human and sex trafficking, and the lack of health care. USD SON professors Dr. Martha Fuller, Dr. Mary Barger, Dr. Sharon Boothe-Kepple, and Dr. Bridget Hutchens work to keep the conversation about health disparities ongoing; they asked Dr. Serena Arts, a 2019 graduate of the USD SON Doctor of Nursing Practice program, to speak at the Read! event.

Dr. Arts currently works as a Nurse Practitioner for Father Joe’s Villages.  She says stories like Nyla’s are not all that uncommon. She started in her position just one year ago; she would see patients at Father Joe’s clinic and two mornings a week, she would go into the streets and see patients.  Then the pandemic happened, and now, she sees patients at the San Diego Convention Center.

“Everybody's priceless,” she said.  “The homeless need health care, too.  We 're doing the best we can. San Diego has the fourth largest homeless population in the country, so everybody sees it. But I think a lot of times people think that homeless people are bums or they’re lazy or did it to themselves, but there's a reason for the homelessness; something happened. You don't end up like that just because you're lazy.”

That’s why Nyla Vivas is so vocal about her struggles and why she hopes you are listening.

“The Torero Renaissance Scholars Program is for foster youth and homeless youth. So I try to tell my story to be vulnerable enough to show there are people on our campus that are struggling through a lot of things. So I hope that you will listen to other stories and that we can keep fighting.”

Everyone is invited to hear Dr. Arts and Nyla next Wednesday, October 28, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.  The event is free, but registration is required.  You can register by clicking here.  


Hear more from Nyla and Dr. Arts:

Nyla almost didn’t attend USD because of a misunderstanding; hear her tell that story.

Dr. Arts talks about what it is like to treat the patients at the convention center versus treating them on the streets.

begin quoteI was bruised from getting hit the night before. I was 11 years old and we were in a motel. There were a lot of predators and drug addicts. And I just wanted to run away
USD Just Read!

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