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Dallas County Has More Than 5,000 Homeless Students

Bill Zeeble
Timothy Simons (center) was among several once-homeless students at an event called See Me Now: Teens Without Homes. It was a gathering of some students and non-profit groups that reach out to kids facing homelessness and other issues

More than 5,000 homeless kids go to school in Dallas County. KERA talked to some of them about their lives and how pursuing an education motivated them to change their circumstances.

Timothy Simons is 19, now attending El Centro College. Getting to college was tough. Since he was 10, his mom struggled with drugs. Timothy didn’t always have a place to live; home was so unstable.

“Going through struggles of every day, I got used to it,” Timothy says. “I had to move out and try to find something different. Cause seeing that day to day, you wake up to the same thing every day, and you’re not progressing. You want to find something that’ll help you progress.”

Timothy found some stability thanks in part to a mentor and a Dallas non-profit called Promise House. His mother was deeply involved in a church that helped her deal with drugs, but it wasn’t a good fit for him.

“You can’t really have anything for the kids ‘cause they’re basically working on the parents there on drugs. So you have to follow the rules set for the adults, not for the kids,” Timothy says. “And the kids don’t’ really have any type of privileges or type of fun so they basically stop growing up, going through the things the adults put them through.”

Those homeless kids are getting older, according to Harriet Boorhem. The president of Promise House is retiring after 16 years.

“Our demographics at Promise House have changed pretty dramatically,” Boorhem says. “Our average age used to be like 14-15 and it’s now 17. More and more older teens are pushed out of their homes for various reasons. Families just can’t support them.”

That’s where Boorhem or other service organizations try to step up. The Dallas school district, for example, is about to increase the number of what it calls its ‘drop-in’ centers from four to seven. This is where homeless students can privately seek help. The effort supports not just survival, but graduation, or at least a GED. That’s what 19-year-old Starr Rodriguez is aiming for.

"I want a job and actually get a career and not just live off of nothing,” Starr says. “And be successful and make money and not be a statistic anymore.”  

Starr came here from San Antonio, abused by her father, and bouncing in an out of foster care.

It’s a familiar story for Robert Winterode, who stands as an example of what perseverance can lead to. Growing up with his mom who has a mental illness, he was in more than 30 schools in multiple states, calling no place home.

“I was really fed up going from school to school,” Winterode says. “I almost failed eighth grade due to truancy. But in high school, I was able to find some teachers that were really supportive of me and I really just buckled down and went through the four years in one school, which was a first for me. I had never spent that long at any school.”

Winterode loved school, and he got into Duke University. Then he graduated from Cornell Law School. Now he works at Legal Aid of Northwest Texas. The Dallas job lets him build a career, but it also lets him help others solve some problems he used to face first-hand. 

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