Monday, August 24, 2009

Hats Off to Homeless Teens

School started today across the metroplex. DISD buses were running carrying thousands of kids to their first day of the new school year.

Here's something I bet you don't know about kids in DISD. Over 4,000 of them are homeless, with about 1,300 of those being between the ages of 13 and 18. They live in shelters, in cars, under bridges, doubled or tripled up with family or friends, in cheap motels, as "sofa surfers" (moving from place to place). Many of the older kids live without parents or guardians, fending for themselves as best as they can.

The miracle is that they go to school at all. The barriers for them are gigantic before they even hit the front door of the school: transportation, child care, uniforms or clothes, shoes, school supplies, the list is endless. They arrive hungry, many having not slept the night before, mentally fragile, abused, disconnected. And they are supposed to be educated in that condition. Fat chance!

We had a young woman at Promise House last year who lived in parks in a Dallas suburb for over a year, while continuing to attend her home school. We had another young man who lived in his car, attended his home school, was involved in athletics, and came to us only when he ran out of options for help.

How do these teens do it? Why do they do it?

What we have heard over the years is that for many homeless and runaway teens, school is their anchor, the one place they can count on for routine, food, shelter during the day, and adults who care about them. They can get help with supplies and necessities, and they can hope for a way out of their situation through education.

That is pretty darn impressive.

I've said often that there are homeless and runaway teens in your very neighborhood, maybe on your own block; and they are certainly in your schools. Dallas, Richardson, Irving, Arlington, DeSoto, Duncanville, Lancaster, you name the city or school district they are there.....and it is a travesty.

The fastest growing homeless populations currently are women with children and unaccompanied teens. It's time for the government and funders who pay for support services to catch up with the trends and widen the safety net from chronically homeless adults to include women, children, families, and unaccompanied teens.

Or, as I say again and again, we will never end homelessness in Dallas or anywhere, unless we address the young people who are potentially the next generation of chronically homeless adults.

My hat is off to the homeless and runaway teens who are trying to stay in school. I hope you make it. I hope we help.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fiscal Year End--Thank Goodness!!

Promise House's fiscal year is coming to an end August 31. It has been a tough year for us, no doubt about it. We had to make some extremely hard decisions in order to cut expenses, including the reduction of salaries by 10%. I want to again thank each and every one of my staff members for the sacrifices you have made this year to help get us through.

I am thrilled to report that we will end the year WITHOUT a deficit (unless some act of God happens) and maybe a small surplus. The outlook for next year is still not great, and to that end, we have adjusted the 2009 – 2010 Budget to reflect that. However, the Executive Team’s TOP priority in 2009 – 2010 is to begin restoring salaries, if possible.

The most incredible and awesome thing about this past year is that it looks like we will have served almost 1,000 more clients than last fiscal year, with less money, and with staff taking a salary cut. That is truly a mirror for what is going on in the economy and how many teens and families are in trouble because of it.

Everyone involved with PH played a significant role in getting us through this past year. I hope you will take at least a moment to compliment yourself and your colleagues for your Herculean efforts; and for the exemplary service you provided to our clients, in spite of these rough times.

You are truly the BEST, and I am honored and humbled to work with you.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Amen For Friends

I had dinner last night with Peg and Marty, two long-time friends that I hadn't seen in 20 years. Wow! How can 20 years speed by like that??? Three hours later, we decided we needed to do this quarterly, as we could have sat there another 10 hours, probably, updating each other.

Marriages, divorces, deaths, grandbabies (not me, of course--I'm too young-hah!), grown children, accomplishments, challenges, gossip, updates on mutual friends, reminisces about our younger years together.....and miraculously, none of us had aged a bit!!

It truly is hard to believe that we are the ages that we are, that we have lived so much of life. I still feel so much like a teenager so much of the time--unsure, awkward, self-centered, self-involved, ageless, self-conscious. I can't fathom grandkids (I'm just launching my youngest child!), and sometimes jump back in shock when I look in the mirror--who is that older woman??

I'm not sure if that means I'm developmentally arrested or something, but at least it comes in handy with the Promise House teens. I GET them. I know who they are, how they are feeling, what their fears are, how they cover them up, what their fights are about.

What I don't know is the trauma so many of them have suffered--shuffled through the foster care system, abused at the hands of parents or step-parents, kicked out of their homes for one thing or another, trying to make it on their own.

I know the effects of that trauma, but I can never say to any of them that I understand what they have been through. I can only sit and listen, create a holding environment in which they feel safe enough to walk back through it all. And hopefully, heal a little.

To me, one of the worst effects of their trauma and transience is the loss of history and long-term connections. I've talked about this alot, and it is the one thing that makes me want to take them all home and create a history and a family connection for them.

I feel extremely fortunate to have long-term connections such as my friends Peg and Marty; my next-door and across the street neighbors of 20 years; my siblings; my graduate school buddies. They are my history and I am theirs. Even if I don't see them for another 20 years, I know if I needed any of them, I could call and they would be there in an instant.

The lack of these connections for our kids makes working with them very poignant. What keeps me going is that hopefully, they see us as that long-term connection and a major part of their history; a friend they can call on anytime--even 20 years from now--if they need help; that we are their anchor in the turbulent waters of their lives.

Like Peg and Marty are to me, we are to them.

Amen for friends.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Criminal, Schriminal!

I have been very grumpy lately. The cause?? Criminal background checks.

Someone on high from somewhere has dropped the hammer on every federal and state agency with whom we work and mandated that background checks must be done. Well, that’s not news to us—we’ve always done them. The problem is….EVERY agency wants a DIFFERENT background check. We currently do FOUR (count them, 4!) different background checks on every employee to satisfy ourselves, TDFPS, and whoever else is in the mix.

The latest grump-maker is Dallas County, with whom we have an agreement every year to accept referrals from their truancy courts. WELL, it seems that they don’t like our background checks and want yet ANOTHER one for those employees who would be working with their teens. THEY PAY US NOTHING FOR WORKING WITH THESE KIDS. And worst than that, the young woman with whom we have been dealing is one who can only repeat like a robot what the requirements are—that are due TODAY, by the way.

Thank goodness I know people in high places (that is a joke) and called Ron Stretcher, who is over all the truancy courts. We now have a reprieve until he can figure an easier way for us to do these checks.

Now, to date, here are the people who have been involved in trying to solve this issue: Keri, STAR program manager; Regina Levine, Parents with Promise manager; Alex Appiah, V.P. Programs; Judy Marshall, V.P. Internal Affairs, and little ole me!

And they had been trying to solve this issue for two weeks!!!

The other villain in this story is the company that the TDFPS STAR program uses to do their background checks. We submitted 15 employees back in June to be checked, and as of Wed., had not heard back any results—in spite of several phone calls and emails. So, we couldn’t even prove to the County that these folks have been cleared—until I emailed the Division Head of STAR and demanded that this be fixed.

We were talking in Leadership Retreat yesterday about things that rob our passion. Well, let me tell you, THIS IS IT!!!!

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE??? Why can’t they get their stuff together and use ONE background check for everyone? I guess that would be WAY too simple.

Thank you for listening to me vent. It was a VERY testy week, and I have become the shrew whose phone calls and emails the state and county are trying to valiantly avoid. BUT THEY WILL NEVER GET RID OF ME! And we will prevail (somehow!).

I hope I have a better week this week!