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Help Goes A Long Way For Homeless Dallas Students On First Day Of School

Bill Zeeble
Charles Johnson has housed homeless Dallas student Desmond Davis this year because the 17-year-old might otherwise be on the streets. Johnson has helped Dallas' homeless for a dozen years.

North Dallas High School is home to about 100 homeless kids because it’s near three homeless shelters and organizations that serve families in need. One of those students is a 17-year-old senior who temporarily lives in Oak Cliff.

A worn bungalow with a porch stacked with fishing poles is where Desmond Davis lives – for now. The senior at North Dallas High School is a drum major and baritone player with the Bulldog band. For at least six years, he’s shared a place with someone other than his mom and dad, which means he’s considered homeless.

“I always needed help,” Desmond says. “It’s just that you just can’t tell by the way I walk. Whatever I do in school, I didn’t really show that. I always needed help. My dad’s gone through tough times, just trying to get a stable job and keep a place to stay. He’s going to be out of town most of the time because he’s got one of those out of state jobs.”

Desmond is one of nearly 3,000 homeless DISD students. His divorced dad -- a truck driver -- can’t afford a home. And Des doesn’t get along with his mom. So he kept wrangling ways to stay with someone, and found his grandmother.

“I remember one time I walked, I had my clothes and my bag,” Des says. “I was just walking around trying to see who I was going to stay with. All the relatives I know. When I was at my grandmother’s house, I had to get up early, not because I needed to be ready for school but to help her with her insulin and stuff like that. Then I had to catch the bus to make it up here early.”

When he left her place, he found a friend who lives near school. That way, he could just walk down the street to class instead of living on the streets.   

“It was already four people in the house and me,” Des says. “That’s like an extra mouth to  feed. They said 'Right now, it’s kind of tough' and I was like 'Yes, I understand. I’m just glad you let me stay for six months.'”

Des admits it’s been kind of a roller coaster life, but he’s managed.

“It’s like I’m there but I don’t know how long I’m going to be there," he said. "It’s always like a mystery. I never know when, like, 'Oh well, you got to go somewhere else.'”

Then Des met CJ, or Charles Johnson, a North Dallas High monitor. With help from non-profit organizations and churches, he’s temporarily housed kids from North Dallas High for a dozen years. He doesn’t like calling them homeless.   

“I’m just keeping the family until the family gets on their feet,” Johnson says.  “When the family gets on their feet, they’ll reconnect. They can always come over here. When the kid knows he has a safe place, he’ll be educated better and he’ll move better. The discipline is by me by direction, chores. Community service and working and giving back, you know?" 

Giving back is part of what Des has been inspired to do. He’s a member of the school’s Action Team, which helps kids in local shelters. He also likes school, and he's happy to be back, with his sights set on college.

He visited the Oklahoma State campus once, and got inspired by the school spirit and sense of identity. Now he wants to be an Oklahoma Cowboy. 

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.