DALLAS, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – In Dallas, the doors have opened on a new facility that aims to offer support and services for young people who have no place to call home… but, who also work hard to hide their situations.
“My young people: they’re everywhere,” says Madeline Reedy with CitySquare. “They’re working in the McDonalds, you see them at the local bus stop with a backpack on. You think they’re heading to school, yet these young people are experiencing something pretty traumatic.”
CitySquare is the community partner tapped to run the new Fannie C. Harris Youth Center. Reedy says the situations that put young people on the street vary — families who are slipping farther into economic crisis, sexual orientation, a pregnancy. Some are fleeing abuse. But, she also admits that some won’t seek out support because of the stigma attached to homelessness.
“They absolutely don’t want you to know they’re homeless,” says Reedy. “And they absolutely don’t want to be in the same environment as the homeless people you might see, it’s not safe for them there, either…so they’re definitely hiding.”
So the youth center will be that safe place for those already on the street– or staying on a friend’s couch, or in a car– to get a meal, a shower, do laundry. Students can also come to the center to get tutoring services, or find a quiet place to study.
“We had a young lady who was sleeping on the steps of her local high school,” recalls Reedy, “and we thought, there must be hundreds more.”
More likely, thousands. Although the figure is constantly fluctuating, some estimates put the number of homeless students in Dallas ISD at some 4,000.
The district already has services for homeless students in place at all high school and some middle school campuses.
At North Dallas High, Sherrie Cleaver has earned a reputation for offering support before situations unravel.
“Man, Ms. Cleaver pushed me so hard!” exclaims Taylor Hart, a junior at North Dallas High, who has known Cleaver since middle school. “She was there when I was crying, when I was being bullied…she was always there to cheer me up, give me snacks and we’d just talk.”
Now, the Fannie Harris Youth Center will offer an access point for teens who have perhaps lost that school connection. Right now, the center is only open on weekdays. But, staffers say as more youth access the services, the goal is the center to eventually be staffed 24 hours a day.
“It’s a blessing,” says Hart of the support. “It really is a blessing.”