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.

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