Thursday, April 30, 2009

Is This the One??

Swine flu, influenza, pandemic. Wash your hands, cover your nose and mouth, don't gather in large groups. Schools shut down, events cancelled, people worried. What do we do if an employee gets sick? What do we do if one of our teens gets sick? Plans must be made and followed. The flow of life interrupted, the flow of work impeded, anxiety levels raised.

Level 5 on the WHO scale. Could this be the ONE? I certainly hope not--geez, with all our technical and medical advances, you would think we could stop this thing!

Is this being overblown? Is there something we are not being told? Is it germ warfare? I doubt the last two, and as for the first one, always better safe than sorry.

So we will do the best we can, follow protocol, get advice and guidance from our licensing people and Dallas County Health Department, and do what is before us this day.

Wash your hands, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, then wash your hands again.

And try to live your life.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pecan Trees and Teens

My pecan tree finally leafed out. That's when I know spring is really here. Always the last to "bloom", casting a huge mess of whatevers all over my deck and my dogs right before the leaves show. And then, voila, overnight, it's in full leaf.

Seems to be a good metaphor for life. We wait and wait for something good to happen and many times have to clean up a big mess before we get to the good stuff. And then, voila, overnight there it is. What happens when you don't want to clean up the mess? Well, as someone said (me), it follows you around in a U-Haul trailer so that wherever you are, there's your mess.

Teenagers don't like to clean up messes. They like to make them. They think if they just walk away, the mess will disappear, or someone else will clean it up, because it was someone else's fault that the mess was there in the first place. Makes perfect sense to them.

Our job is to help them clean up, to help them see the consequences if they don't clean up. Most of the teens at PH have big messes that they are just now trying to clean up, after dodging them for years. Some have been on the street, some have been in jail, some have been in abusive relationships, some have been the abusers. But for each of them, our goal is for them to look the mess square in the face and do whatever it takes to fix it. That is not always easy, as teens are famous for blaming someone else for their troubles.

If we are successful, one day (seemingly overnight), they get it and the whole tree leafs out. They finish school, get a job, learn how to be a great parent, refuse to be in an abusive relationship, take responsibility for their lives--and the mess is history.

I think that is worth waiting for.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rain, Rain

Man, what a mess of a morning. Thunder, lightening, rain, rain, rain. My dogs having a conniption fit, lost power three times trying to get ready. Had to be at an Honors breakfast for my daughter at 7:30 a.m., and of course, she wasn't ready. And dogs underfoot, freaking out every time it lightninged or thundered. Trying to put makeup on in the dark--hope to the Lord I have my clothes on right-side out.

I know I should be grateful for the rain--we need it. But I really hate it. When I was a kid, rain meant my father couldn't work, and he was pretty grouchy about that. Rain makes ease of movement difficult. It makes drivers who on a normal day are marginal, idiots. It makes cute puppy paws monstrous mud clods. It makes my kitchen floor that I have to continuously clean anyway because of the dogs, one big mud slide. It makes my 100 year-old house shift in ways I never dreamed possible--it's always a surprise which door will open and which one won't. And if I lose power, it makes my garage door opener a lead weight, which I have to open manually, which is just one more inconvenience.......Blah, blah, blah.

Sounds pretty trivial, I know. But sometimes you just have to vent.

I watch people dealing with the rain as they wait for buses, walk to where they have to be, herd children to school on foot, carry groceries home with no umbrella, search for a dry place to wait it out. Then I feel really bad about being so gripy about rain. Life is a real struggle for them every day, not just when it rains. When I think of our young mothers having to get up at 6:00 a.m., get their kids ready, get them to daycare, and then ride public transportation to their job or school--in the rain and thunder and lightening--that will tend to shut me up.

I really have nothing to gripe about. But you know, sometimes you just have to vent.....

Rain, rain go away. Come again some other day---when I can hide under my covers and wait it out!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Happy Birthday Promise House

Promise House began its 25th year of existence this month.

In 1984 I was in Commerce, TX working on my doctorate in family therapy at what is now Texas A&M Commerce. I had a 4 year-old daughter who got dragged to classes, group therapy, parties, and radical feminist lectures--it was hard to find babysitters in that town. Feminist family therapy had just come into its own, and I was a true believer. Marianne Walters, Gloria Steinem, Olga Silverstein, and Betty Carter were my "sheroes". Journey, Don Henley, the Eagles, Brian Adams, Abba, and Bob Dylan were staples of every party. The Kerrville Folk Festival was a "must attend" every May. My daughter, Kat, was a "mini-hippy", singing along with all the folk music. Peter, Paul, and Mary were the headliners that year. Steel Magnolias was the heart-breaker movie of the year. Definitely some of the most exciting years of my life. Learning, teaching, practicing, philosophising, "blazing frontiers".

I had no idea what "youth services" was, and would not have wanted to know, anyway. I was laser focused on becoming a famous feminist family therapist, joining the ranks of my sheroes.

Meanwhile, a small group of people from Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas decided they needed a mission. They wanted to focus on an underserved population in an underserved area of Dallas. They picked runaway teens in Oak Cliff, found an old blue house and bought it, figured out how to write a federal grant (a miracle), and birthed Promise House, a 16-bed emergency shelter for runaway teens.

Over the last 25 years, Promise House has served almost 60,000 teens and family members. It has grown from that small shelter to a multi-service agency providing 10 large programs for runaway, homeless, and at-risk teens. In 1997, on a wing and a prayer, a brand new building was complete, and the original "house" became Wesley Inn, our group home for homeless pregnant and parenting teens.

My hat is perpetually off to Betty and George Hyde, founding members of the board, who are still very involved in the agency. Their vision has sustained us over these many years. Lynn Stallings, another early disciple, should get the "Quiet Superman" award for his unwavering support and his building and "fix-it" expertise.

So, between 1984 and now, what was I doing? Well, finishing my doctorate, moving to Dallas, setting up private practice, getting married, having a baby, teaching and supervising therapists, getting divorced. How did I get to Promise House? Who knows, really--fate, circumstances, life, destiny.

I've now been at PH for 11 years--this month. I've been President for eight of those years. I will be forever grateful and imprinted upon Greg Hesse and Patty O'Neil for their support and guidance during those first tough years.

So what happened to me becoming a famous family therapist? I fell in love with teenagers, especially the ones noone likes. As we say at PH alot, "They get under your skin". For years, when things were difficult in the job, I would keep private practice on the back burner as my "out". But I can't leave these kids, this incredible staff, board of directors, and supporters. The cause is worthy, the battle necessary. And you know how I love a good fight.

So, happy birthday PH. You should have 60,000 candles on your cake.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Homeless Count Tells Only Part of the Story

The Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance's Annual Point in Time Homeless Count was released yesterday. Every year, on one particular night, an attempt is made to count all homeless persons living on the street, in shelters or transitional living facilities. The good news is, the overall number of homeless persons is down. The bad news is that the number of families, women, and children who are homeless is way up.

What is misleading about the count as it pertains to unaccompanied teens is the low number located that night. Grantors and funders who use this count to ascertain the extent of a problem will look at that number and ask, "What's all the fuss about these homeless teens? There aren't that many!"

The reality is, however, that most teens in Dallas who have run away or who are homeless "sofa surf", or move from place to place. They are not going to show up in any "one night" homeless count. But they are still out there.

How do I know this? Because the programs at Promise House that provide emergency and transitional housing to teens always have waiting lists. We can house about 75 teens at a time, and all of our transitional housing programs for homeless teens have at least a 3 month waiting list. These are kids who are unhinged from any support, who are finding a new place to stay every night, who have their own kids with them.

How else do I know this? Because every night we have at least one teen walk in from off the street, and most nights we have two or three. They are not going to be in a homeless count--they are hiding out, trying to find someone to support them--often ending up being exploited in their search.

My fear is that this count will be one more reason to continue to ignore the plight of these teens. Because they are invisible (literally), desperately needed funding to help them will continue to be funneled to the chronically homeless (only 10% of the homeless population) and now to families and children (who certainly deserve the help).

The teens and young people who are being ignored today will be the chronically homeless in 5-10 years. Why can't people get that???? Help them today and we go a long way toward solving the blight of homelessness.
It's called prevention. We could use much more than an ounce of that right about now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is This Your Child??

For those of us who have daughters, this is a story that would be our worst nightmare. Two young women have come into the Promise House shelter in the last month, both of whom had been put out on the street by their "boyfriends" and told not to come back until they had "made some money". One of the young women was in such bad shape physically and mentally that my street outreach manager had to take her to the Parkland ER .

Luckily, they are both back home with parents, thanks to the hard work of our street outreach people and the Greyhound Bus "Home Free" Program, which provides free bus tickets to runaways to go home.

Others, however, are not so lucky. Sex trafficking is mostly thought of as an international phenomenum, but it is alive and well right here in the USA. If you ever see a "missing teen" poster, there is a chance he or she has been enticed, lured, coerced, or forced into prostitution--girls AND boys.

The media has done plenty of reporting on international sex trafficking. However, you will hardly read or hear anything about the problem that is right here in front of our faces. WHY IS THAT?? It's like the social worker, therapist, etc., who spends so much time fixing other people's problems that their own children are totally neglected.

We need to focus HERE, in our own community, state, country--on the teens that are missing, exploited, abused, even murdered every day. The funding that Promise House has received since 1997 for our street outreach program has not increased one dollar in 12 years. Meanwhile, millions of dollars have been invested in federal abstinence-only and mentoring programs that have little to no empirical data to prove their efficacy.

As hard as it is to believe, one of those missing girls or boys could be your child. And if it was your child, you would want all the help you could get to find him or her safe. That is all we are asking--all the help we can get.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


So I was visiting in the Promise House cafeteria with a young man who had come in off the streets last Friday night. I'll call him Sam. I asked him how he came to be here, and this is the story I heard.

"Well, I got out of jail on Friday afternoon and didn't have a place to stay, so I went to the Bridge (the homeless assistance center), but the security guards wouldn't let me in, cause I'm not 18 (he is 17). They told me to go to the Dallas Life Foundation, so I found my way there and was filling out paperwork when they told me I couldn't stay there, cause I'm not 18. They did say that a police officer was coming by and could take me to Promise House. This was close to midnight. So that's how I got here."

So I then asked, "Why were you in jail?" He said he was charged with injury to a child. So, of course, I asked him how that happened, and he said he had gotten in a fight with his 12 year old cousin (girl), and her mother called the police and told them he had sexually assaulted his cousin. According to him, there was no proof of the sexual assault, so the crime was downgraded to injury to a child. He was tried as an adult (at 17, remember) and given 4 months in jail and 5 years probation. So, for the last 4 months, he had been incarcerated at the Lou Sterrett jail with adult males.

Now, what's wrong with this picture??? Well, let's see. He can't find a place to stay at adult shelters, cause he is not an adult. BUT, he can certainly be tried as an adult and housed in a jail with adult males for 4 months. I did not even ask about THAT experience, but I can imagine.

Seventeen year olds are NOT adults. But we seem to be really confused about this--the court system sees them as adults in many cases, but they can't vote, find housing, or sign a lease. It has taken years to persuade the justice system to NOT put juvenile status offenders in jail with adults!

This is one of the many ways teenagers continue to be mishandled, ignored, and even abused by our social service and justice systems. We need to decide--are 17 year-olds children or adults? Based on my 30 years of experience, they are definitely children, no matter how "adult" they look and act.