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In Texas And Across The U.S., Number Of Homeless Students Is Up

Bill Zeeble
North Dallas High School monitor Charles Johnson - on the left - and senior Desmond Davis. Thanks to CJ, numerous Dallas students who'd otherwise be homeless have a place stay. Johnson has helped them for years.

There are more homeless students than ever, according to a new government study. This poses problems for students and schools. Advocacy groups are trying to figure out how to help.

The Department of Education says nearly1.3 million of the nation’s kids are homeless. That’s anincrease of 8 percent. The situation is slightly better in Texas, where the increase is 7 percent.

“Children experiencing homelessness are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities,” says Cara Baldari, policy director with the national child advocacy organization First Focus. “They’re more likely to transfer schools more often and therefore miss school, which we know can affect reading and other test scores.”

Baldari says homelessness is the leading cause of dropouts.  She says school mentors can help.

”Certainly having stable adults in a child’s life is extremely important,” Baldari says. “And that might be a teacher in a school who identifies with a student. Somebody a student can go to and trust.”   

Locally, at North Dallas High School, longtime school monitor Charles Johnson is that person. Through the years, he’s provided many homeless students with a place to stay, including a North Dallas senior this semester.

“I took the part on, making sure he had everything," Johnson said. "He was in a situation where he actually needed someone to actually be around him, that could get from point A to point B, and make sure he could make all his commitments. I wish there were more people because we have a lot of situations out there.”

The student he’s helping is senior Desmond Davis, one of about 3,000 homeless kids in the Dallas school district. Desmond lived with his divorced dad until a job took the truck driver out of state -- then he moved in with his grandmother until she needed full-time care. Then he relied on friends for as long as they could help.

“I’m there,” Desmond says, a little forlorn. “But I don't know how long I’m going to be there. It was always like a mystery. I’ll never know when, like oh you got to go somewhere else. “

The senior says life has stabilized now that he’s living with Johnson. And he has an eye on college. 

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