Young adults find path

Some age out of foster care. Some flee strained or abusive relationships with parents. Some are looking to escape addiction.

But the residents of Pathways — a program for homeless young adults — have one thing in common: They feel they have nowhere else to go.

"There's no other family, no other friends, there's nobody," said Bianca Foster, 20, of Modesto.

Foster is one of a handful of young people who are part of Pathways, a transitional living program run by the Center for Human Services. The program provides people ages 18-21 with housing, job-search assistance, drug and alcohol counseling, and more — for free.

But there are rules. Residents must submit to random drug tests; they must report to the office every day by 9 a.m., dressed and ready to search for a job; they must put at least 50 percent of their earnings into a savings account.

Those requirements prove too strict for some, so Pathways is typically at full capacity — 16 residents — for only about half the year.

"People come and hear the rules and say, 'Oh, no, that's not for me,' " said Paula Harter, program manager.

Pathways started 10 years ago, when Stanislaus County was looking to help foster youth who had aged out of the system. The program set up shop with three apartments in a complex in west Modesto. Job training was the goal.

As Pathways grew, administrators realized the program needed to be closer to a bus line, closer to clients' prospective workplaces. That's when it moved to its current location, a cluster of four three-bedroom, two-bath homes on Norwegian Avenue.

Residents can stay up to 21 months, depending on their circumstances. If necessary, they take part in on-site drug and alcohol counseling and travel in a group to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. They also learn life skills, like how to shop for groceries, how to cook and how to clean.

"You take it for granted that people know how to clean a toilet," said Natalie Saldana, a case manager who works with the residents. "They don't."

Pathways has seven staff members. At least one worker is on-site around the clock. It operates on a budget of $586,000, most of it from the federal government's Transitional Living Program for Older Homeless Youth. It doesn't use any state money — a good thing, Harter said, because many state-funded programs recently have suffered budget cuts.

Pathways has room to spare, at least at the moment. Eleven residents are living there now, which leaves space for five more.

Here are some of the residents and their stories:

Greg Chatham

For most teens, turning 18 is a happy occasion. It might mean a family party, a night out with friends or an extravagant gift.

Not for Chatham.

In the weeks leading up to his special day, the Modesto teen grew worried. Chatham, who had been in foster care since he was 4 years old, was about to be on his own for the first time.

The group home he had been living in for the past two years couldn't house him once he became an adult. He had some money saved and had earned his high school diploma, but had no job and no place to live.

His social worker told him about Pathways. He went to an informational meeting and knew it was for him.

"I want to be successful, graduate college, have a family of my own," he said.

Chatham started Pathways six months ago. He has thrived in the structured program, landing a job at McDonald's — not easy in this economy. He's now a student at Modesto Junior College, studying sociology. He wants to be a social worker.

"If I didn't have this place, I don't know where I'd be," he said. "It gave me an opportunity to change my life."

James and Lauren Killian

James Killian has this to say about himself and his sister, Lauren: "We end up messing up a lot."

James Killian, 19, landed in Pathways when he was released from jail for stealing a sweater, an offense that came after he was associated with a string of home robberies.

Lauren Killian, 18, came to the program at the urging of her mother. She left her parents' home in Denair earlier this year to live with her boyfriend. The relationship fizzled, and she had been staying with friends ever since.

"I was tired of running around," she said. "I was constantly moving my life around from house to house."

The two have been at Pathways two months, and admit they have a long way to go. James Killian is looking for work. Lauren Killian recently enlisted in the Army in hopes of becoming a nurse. She leaves for boot camp in January.

The Killians say the program requirements are not easy to adhere to — checking in at the Pathways office by 9 a.m., spending the day looking for work, and finding time to complete household duties.

It helps that they're in it together.

"We've got a lot closer," Lauren Killian said. "He tells me to keep my head up."

Bianca Foster

Foster is what you might call a Pathways veteran.

The 20-year-old Modestan started the program a year ago, then left to live in a garage with a girlfriend and the girlfriend's newborn baby. That relationship ended and Foster had nowhere to go.

Now she is back, eager to succeed. She works at Taco Bell and takes advantage of the free counseling sessions the program offers.

People who don't make it at Pathways can't handle the rules, Foster said. They must get a job within six months (volunteering counts), and there are curfews and restrictions on guests in the homes.

Foster's next step? Modesto Junior College. She's never gone to school and held a job at the same time, and expects her new life to be a challenge.

"I think it's going to be extremely hard," she said.

With the help of Pathways, Foster believes she can do it — "if I actually let them help me," she said, "if I let them in."