Let me just put the hard stuff out here first – there are approximately 3500 homeless students in attendance in the Dallas ISD; 442 of them in high school. Most of them are lucky enough to move around in relative safety while in the care of a parent or other trusted adult, but there are 112 documented cases of high school students living alone in a car, a park, a street, campground or abandoned building. These are the unsheltered students, mostly 9th graders. Why? Because not long after this age the kids just drop out.
So what does homeless mean when we’re talking about school kids? It means kids who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. Ranging from living in a motel or on a friend’s couch, these are the homeless school students stuck in a tough spot in life whether due to abandonment, family trouble, or financial issues. You know what? Just fill in the blank with all the imaginative and many situations that can cause a child to be put in a place he never counted on, then thank God that your own child isn’t sitting in that same chair.
Y’all, currently there is not a facility in Dallas that provides shelter services, education and other support services, or 24/7 drop-in services under one roof for students enrolled in DISD schools. As much as I love that Dallas ISD is in the process of re-purposing an unused elementary school campus to be a 35-bed homeless shelter for students ages 14-21 with a homeless drop-in center for other kids available 24/7, it’s not yet ready at this writing.
I think I knew even when my kids were in elementary school that there were homeless students in class with them. Not because they looked different or acted different, but because our school had a sort of quiet, behind the scenes program going on for certain kids to take backpacks full of food with them over the weekend. Think peanut butter, bread, bottled water…. I honestly never took time to think where they might be taking it.
I’m not sure I got the full picture of it till my kids started high school and I learned that each of the large Dallas ISD high schools has its own Homeless Students Drop In Center – a place on campus, usually open once a week, that provides breakfast, hygiene items, backpacks, and support for the kids at that school. We know there are about 50 homeless students using the center at my kids’ school – but give it time; it just opened this year and the administration is sure there are more that need it that just aren’t brave enough to stop by yet. I knew all year that our school opened a homeless drop in center, but my eyes were opened to the sadness of it all yesterday when I received a link to an Amazon wishlist of needed items for the kids at our school.
I guess because they look just like every other kid there. All students wear uniforms, and with most of the student population being of low socio-economic status anyway, many receive their uniforms through donations, grants, or from the school’s uniform closet anyway. I guess I never knew who was or wasn’t getting what they needed. I’m feeling the mirror reflecting pretty dimly on me right about now.
Maybe I’ve been so busy noticing the things going on with my own kids, the ones that have beds and clean clothes and no worries about where their next meal comes from, to be reminded of the ones that depend on people like me to supply donated items so they can have a jar of peanut butter. I guess I never stopped to put faces with the homeless name.
Until yesterday, when I clicked on the Bryan Adams High School wishlist and let my heart feel the heavy need that these kids feel every day. I let my mind wander through the list of needs – backpacks, pre-packaged meals, and hygiene items – and for a moment, hated my plan to stop by the bakery on the way home from picking up the boys from school so everyone could get a million of their favorite things.
Y’all, I didn’t know. Or I didn’t want to know. But as I was talking to Kid 2 about it, the thought of that particular age, being such a roller coaster time anyway – the body changes, the hormonal ups and downs, the whole high school time being its own adventure in growing up and falling back down – I think the need for acne wash is what broke my heart. I thought about how easily we fill a prescription or run to Target when we run low on something. I thought about how hard those days are when my kids wake up and feel less than amazing because of just being 14 or 16 or 17, trapped in a body that has a mind of its own – and I cried for the thought of the kids who are doing their cleaning up in the school bathroom. I said a prayer of thanksgiving that they can, but hope it doesn’t stay like that too long. I cried for the kids that need the comforts of home in a time like this, and I cried that I never took the time to do anything about it.
What I’m doing to help homeless students in DISD
So today I am. Today I am shopping this school wish list on Amazon. And today I am sharing the list with you. I am asking you to share and shop, and shop and share. Then shop and share some more.
I’m asking you to call the Dallas ISD Homeless Education Program and ask what they need TODAY. Then call them again next week and ask again.
I am asking you to take a look at this non-profit organization, Hope Supply Company – a local organization that maintains a large warehouse of critically needed items for children and youth including diapers, wipes, hygiene items, school supplies, and school uniforms. These items are distributed to 60 partner agencies including the Dallas ISD Homeless Education Program. Then give something – your time, your talent, your gifts.
And I’m asking you to go into your own kids’ schools and check on this very thing. Then do something about helping the homeless students in your school.
Maybe I can only buy deodorant for a needy kid today. That’s okay because it’s something they need and so do I – to think of someone else’s kids other than my own – as if they were my own – and put a face with the problem and make it real to me. Then I want to ask as many people as I can to do the same.
Part of me wants to forget about the problem. Part of me hopes that I never can.