Wednesday, September 30, 2009

PH Conundrum

I have a conundrum with which I need help. Promise House was founded as an emergency shelter for runaway teens. We have continued to operate the shelter for the last 25 years while adding other programs critically needed for these teens, such as transitional living, community-based prevention programs, a maternity group home for homeless young mothers and their children, and scattered-site apartments for older homeless mothers and their children.

We have always viewed the shelter as the core of Promise House, and the program from which everything else grew. You would think, that as the core program, it would stay full; particularly with the statistic that over 6,000 teens run away from home every year in Dallas County. BUT, since its inception, there have been periods of time when the shelter has not been full. It was built as a 20-bed facility, and even now when we are using only 16 beds due to lack of funding, there are periods when it is not full. The question is: WHY?

The programs that stay full with waiting lists are our transitional living programs, particularly the programs for homeless young mothers and their children. We currently have a maternity group home, 15 apartments and two houses in the community for these programs; and we could easily double the size of bed space and stay full.

Here is the conundrum: do we keep supporting the shelter, knowing that kids are out there--but not knowing how to get them in--or do we transform that space into transitional living beds for the programs that are burgeoning? Could we raise as much money for TLP as we do for the Shelter?

We are embarking on a "marketing blitz" for the Shelter this fall to let people all over Dallas County know it is available. I'll be interested to see if it makes a difference. I still think emergency shelter for youth is a critically needed service for our community, and we need to get to the bottom of why kids aren't accessing it as much as they could.

Anyway, ideas, advice, feedback, are welcome. Sometimes new eyes bring great new solutions. And since I know anyone who reads this is brilliant, I'm confident you will come through with great stuff.


1 comment:

  1. The kids who need the emergency shelter are out there, and I think it would be a disservice to them to close it. Such a tough target—scared, wary, underground. However, they’re teenagers, so it’s hard to imagine that most aren’t connected online. Kids live online these days. I expect that many sofa surfers and kids on the street have access to computers in homes, schools and libraries, and use friends’ smart phones to get online. And if they’re online, they’re checking My Space.

    I’m sure you’ve thought of these things, but here are a few ideas:

    Creating a safe space online
    So many of these kids are living with betrayal and abandonment, and trusting you with their fragility (or toughness) is surely not something they do lightly. So, could a safe space for them to explore Promise House online help them make the decision to come in?

    My Space
    Could you refocus your My Space page as an outreach tool? The Pew Internet and American Life Project says that 85 percent of teens with an online profile use My Space most often, so you’ve got a strong channel.

    A My Space page that shows how your programs can meet their needs, answers their questions, has blog posts (that you control) from kids who’ve been there—and has a teen vibe—has a chance of going viral in the community. It could add to your outreach teams’ street cred and give the kids they touch a place to explore Promise House later, away from the pressures of the street.

    It would also give donors and prospects a real-world view of your work, which could be powerful.

    Promise House Web site
    Could the “Teen Resources” page on your Web site offer a teen’s-eye view of Promise House? It might be as simple as adding a few testimonials, links to your videos and My Space page, and a brief list of services—with the ways they benefit the kids who need them. I can also imagine some really engaging interactive tools that speak to their situations and needs.

    Text blasts
    Could your outreach teams ask for cell phone numbers, then send regular text blasts? Messages could include links to your Web site and My Space page. This could not only communicate and invite, but also open dialogues and build trust. And they’ll likely be forwarded.

    Thanks for your candid and insightful blog. In the interest of full disclosure, let me add that I’ve applied for your grant-writing job. Whether or not you choose me (and I hope you do!), I’m glad to have found Promise House and intend to stay connected.

    All the best,

    Laurie Williams Harrison