By Robbie Owens

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) –  Amid the typical lunchtime chatter, smiling children pass bowls of hot ravioli, green beans, and peaches. They bid each other “have a good lunch” and dig in.

It all seems so perfectly, happily normal.

And for the hours these children spend at Dallas’ Vogel Alcove, it is. When they leave, most if not all of them, will spend the night at various homeless shelters.

Vogel Alcove provides quality childcare and early childhood education while their parents go to school, work or look for work.

“I was a single mom with nowhere to go,” says Crystal Fisher. “I can’t even explain how much they have helped me.” Fisher says her two boys, ages 5 and 4, have thrived in the Vogel Alcove’s programs.

“If it wasn’t for Vogel Alcove, they probably wouldn’t be ready for school.”

Research shows that homeless children are 90 percent more likely to have developmental delays, so children in Vogel Alcove programs are all screened. Speech, physical and occupational therapy is offered on site.

“To me it’s actually a great thing when people walk in and say ‘they look just like every other child’… that’s what I want them to get here,” says Karen Hughes, Vogel Alcove President & CEO.

She says their growing, fluid list of young clients challenge the stereotypical—and misplaced idea of who is homeless.

“Most people when they think of homelessness… quite honestly they think of the guy on the side of the street with a cardboard sign. And that is just NOT what homelessness is. Homelessness is children and families. A child is not going to have a cardboard sign.”

In fact, according to Hughes, family homelessness is up in Dallas 26 percent over the previous year. “Half [of] the homeless population are children and women, and of those children most of them are under the age of six.”

And those children—115 of them this week—are the Vogel Alcove’s young charges. While their parents go to school, work, or look for work, these children enjoy what is likely the only stability in their young lives.

“No day is exactly the same and while that may be easy for adults to cope with, stability and structure and schedule is critical to a young child’s development,” says Hughes. “And they just don’t know what’s going to happen. For many of them they’re hungry, they don’t sleep well at night because they may sleep on the floor, or they may sleep on a pallet, or they may sleep with a brother or sister, the things that we take for granted that are just not a part of their lives.”

As Vogel Alcove celebrates 25 years of service to the community, they are also looking to expand their services.

Right now, they are limited to caring to infants and preschool age children. They are also at capacity with a waiting list of homeless clients needing childcare.

But, Hughes says there is a huge demand for after school and holiday care for homeless school age children—about 5,000 of them in the Dallas Independent School district alone.

She hopes that the agency will soon be able to expand to address that need.

“Our children are homeless, but they’re not hopeless.”

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