SAN DIEGO — May is Foster Care Awareness Month, and local civil rights activist Shane Harris shared his experiences in the system with FOX 5 Monday.

Harris wore the Foster Care Awareness ribbon but is someone who knows the system far more intimately than most, having his first experience with foster care at the age of five and living through the system until he was 18 years old.

“My first memory of experiencing foster care is being dropped off at Polinsky Children’s Center, which is basically a retention place for foster youth who are coming into the system,” he said.

The Polinsky Center is a quiet building near several hospitals in Kearny Mesa, and Harris is one of the tens of thousands of youths who have passed through its doors while waiting to be placed with a foster family.

Having lost his father then abused by his sister’s boyfriend, the police rescued Harris but then dropped him off at the county Polinsky Center.

“They should give these kids the world, these kids did nothing to get into the situation that they are in,” Harris said.

Harris says his experience at the Polinsky Center was not a comforting place.

“I come here to Polinsky, I get into this environment and I see all of these kids in one place — one big room – and I’m sleeping on a cot, I’m not even in the most comfortable situation. I’m like terrified,” he said.

Harris described fights between the younger and older kids, meeting potential foster parents and simply feeling lost — only to be placed in the care of a wonderful woman.

“I felt like this would be a good situation and I went with her,” Harris said. “She was one of my first placements in foster care.”

A sickness would upend the brief calm for Harris, bouncing him to several foster care placements. Harris says after years going from home to home, he wasn’t the easiest kid to deal with during his schooling years.

“I meant well, but I had a lot of issues,” Harris said. “Things that weren’t like being healed and solved, and the kids down to just be bottled up and act out.”

Harris remembers his days at the Robert Fulton Elementary School and wishes he could tell himself to “go for it” and be “imaginative.”

At Morse High School, Harris searched for a spot to fit in.

“I started hanging out with the cool guys and they were not the best,” he said. “It was my insecurity that blinded my perspective of my reality.”

Harris, who is now 30 years old and 12 years away from his foster care experience, has some urgent messages for those running the system, from soft careful beginnings of minimizing early trauma to finding more sure-footing.