Andreas, who was formerly homeless and living out of youth shelters and group homes in San Francisco, poses for a portrait in North Beach. Photo Alexis Terrazas

At 16 years old, Andreas traveled 7,000 miles—alone—from the Philippines back to the United States, searching for something he had long since lost: happiness.

“I wasn’t getting what I needed from home,” Andreas, now 25, said. His mother died when he was 8 years old, leaving him angry and in the care of his “oppressive” and controlling father. “At one point, I thought I was the happiest in my life, when I was living on the street.”

Andreas, who declined to state his last name for this report, was born and raised in Traverse City, Michigan, and after a two-year stint in the Philippines, he spent his adolescent years in and out of San Francisco youth homeless shelters and group homes.

Andreas fled his biological family and joined a clan of fellow homeless youth, some who came from as far off as Stockton and Las Vegas, who would become his “street family.”

“We’re spit out into a world that already has its ways, and we’re supposed to work with it. I don’t necessarily agree with the way that things are,” Andreas said. “I don’t think that this is the best way to live. To work all of your life, buy a car, pay rent, that just doesn’t seem really natural to me.”

“There is a percentage of people that are a product of the system that has failed them,” Andreas continued.

Andreas was a self-described teenage “punk” living in the Philippines, where his father had sent him two years earlier after he stole a car and led police on a high-speed chase. A high school dropout contemplating what he should do with his life, Andreas phoned the U.S. Embassy and informed them that he was stranded (his father was at the time away on business in China). After meeting with two social workers, he was given a one-way plane ticket to be closer to his sister in Redwood City.

“My dad was kind of pissed at me,” Andreas said.

Unable to stay with his sister, however, Andreas spent his first night in San Francisco at the Diamond Youth Center, an emergency homeless shelter, part of Larkin Street Youth Services.

“That was the first place I went,” Andreas recalled. “I met some friends and started seeing what this City was about.”

It wasn’t long before he was robbed. But the quiet Andreas found a family in his fellow homeless teens, many times spending nights huddled together, sharing food they had stolen from corporate supermarkets.

“Those were the only people I had,” Andreas said of his street family. “I have this moral: I have never stolen from another human being, another person…with the bad intention of like, ‘F— this person, I’m going to get mine and I don’t care what happens to them or what they feel.’ But I don’t feel that way about corporations.”

Andreas was seemingly finding some stability at Larkin Street, being moved from the Diamond Shelter to The Loft, a transitional housing and support program for underage youth, where he stayed there for more than a year.

“The Loft was a pretty cool group home, actually,” Andreas said. “There was really cool staff there. And that was one of the things that was so dope about Larkin Street; 90 percent of the people that worked there were amazing. They had a lot of heart. I’m blessed to have been in there presence for that time.”

While there, 17-year-old Andreas landed an internship with the Community Arts Program at Hospitality House, teaching silk-screening and art at Turk and Leavenworth streets.

“I was just trying to get people to do art in a safe space that was very not safe,” Andreas said. “It was cool.”

But when Andreas was transitioned from The Loft to a program where he had his own apartment with roommates from other group homes, he was tested. Unable to adhere to curfew and his newfound freedom, Andreas was sent back to a group home. He then went back to the Diamond Shelter, and it wasn’t long before he was living on the streets again.

“I thought I was ready,” said Andreas, who had begun breaking into abandoned buildings, looking for areas to sleep. “It definitely accelerated my people skills. When you’re dealing with a bunch of upset teenagers, who all have problems, nothing goes smoothly. You definitely have to work on your problem solving skills.”

He would also occasionally stay with friends, but right before turning 18, he met his girlfriend.

“That’s when everything changed,” he said. Shortly after, he lived with his girlfriend and her family for nearly two years. He later would be accepted into the lease program, and lived at a house on Goettingen Street in San Francisco for two years.

“That was a beautiful experience too,” Andreas said. “It was like my last run with Larkin Street.”

He now lives back with his girlfriend, but he doesn’t regret his past, nor the street family he would call the “richest bums,” or “poorest kings.”

“No matter where I go, I’ll always sort of feel homeless in my heart. Because you can’t just be so immersed in it, and just completely forget about it and feel normal,” Andreas said. “I don’t need too much to be happy.”