In a dream world, every child – regardless of their living situation – wakes up feeling safe and secure with an abundance of opportunities for learning and growth. Unfortunately, for thousands of unhoused youths across our city this is not their reality.

More than 16,000 children in San Diego are unhoused, according to the San Diego Economic Equity Report. Among the changemakers working to combat this statistic is nonprofit Father Joe’s Villages through their wraparound services – including the Therapeutic Childcare Center.

“Homelessness in itself is a trauma,” says Alma Hutcherson, the Therapeutic Childcare Manager at Father Joe’s. “It affects your brain and how you learn.”

Educational Empowerment

Father Joe’s Villages is on a mission to prevent homelessness one life at a time. This includes caring for children and their families – building them up to be strong and self-sufficient.

A recent Early Childhood Initiative grant from San Diego Foundation (SDF) helped Father Joe’s Villages provide free, high-quality childcare and behavioral health services to unhoused families and their children – specifically those ages 0-5.

“We offer childcare so parents can access all the services they need and have a safe place to have their child,” Hutcherson says.

Young students learn from Veronica Sandoval, the Therapeutic Childcare Center’s Education Coordinator – a new position the grant helped fund and support.

“I help them prepare academically, but also emotionally and socially by teaching them self-regulation skills in addition to the ABCs, their names and shapes,” Sandoval says.

Sandoval supports children of all ages, beginning as young as two months old to those preparing to enter adulthood.

The Therapeutic Childcare Center’s investment in children is paying off, too. Reading and literacy skills for preschool children have improved 100% since 2021.

Providing a Safe Space

Father Joe's Villages

At the Therapeutic Childcare Center, creating a nurturing, safe environment for homeless children to thrive is paramount. Staff at Father Joe’s Villages are committed to guiding each child and their family towards a brighter future.

“My hope is, while the children are here, it would be a safe place for them,” Hutcherson says. “They would connect with the teachers and receive that love.”

Byron, a Spanish-speaking resident of Father Joe’s Villages, has already noticed a difference in his daughter. He’s grateful for the support the organization has provided his family.

“They are attentive to the children,” he says in Spanish. “They take good care of them, and have given good emotional support.”

Recently, Father Joe’s Villages has seen a tremendous need to help Spanish-speaking families through their services. Sandoval, who is bilingual, loves to provide support.

“Being able to provide that guidance, comfort and assistance in their own language helps build that rapport,” Sandoval says. “They feel secure, even after they leave.”

Early Childhood Initiative

Supported by the Guy C. Clum Fund, the Early Childhood Initiative at SDF addresses the critical need for accessible, quality childcare in the region.

With over 74,000 young children lacking licensed care and nearly half without access to childcare spaces, the foundation’s advocacy and research, exemplified by the groundbreaking 2022 Workforce, Childcare + Change report, are paving the way for transformative action.

From supporting childcare providers through initiatives like Steps to Family Childcare Success (STEPS) and the Childcare Provider Grant Program, which helped essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, to prioritizing children’s well-being through access to vital mental and behavioral health resources, SDF is committed to ensuring every child in San Diego has the foundation to thrive academically and emotionally.

By expanding access to early education and strengthening small providers — many of whom are women entrepreneurs — SDF is not only investing in the future of children but also bolstering the economic vitality of families and communities across the region.

Learn more about SDF goals to create a brighter, more equitable future for San Diego’s youngest residents.