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Dallas ISD's Newest Drop-In Center Helps Students In Need

The Dallas school district recently opened two new high school drop-in centers to help students in need, including homeless kids. The district has partnered with a non-profit group to help remove the stigma from kids afraid to say they’re homeless. The newest center is in Madison High near Fair Park.

It’s just before 8 am. in a large room in Madison High. School’s still an hour away, but in here there are donuts, candy energy bars and school uniforms. A local musician named Cowboy Bob plays music to give this place a coffee-house feel.

On Mondays, this is the district’s newest drop-in center. The rest of the time, it's Madison's Parent Center.  DISD Urban Specialist Kim Toynes says the drop-in center is an attempt to lighten things up for those kids stressed by challenges like homelessness.

“If a student is coming from a shelter in the morning and they get here to the school, that cafeteria is just more of another institutional type place,” Toynes says. “When they come in here it’s an opportunity to sit around comfortably, get relaxed. It’s somebody actually showing that they care about how their day gets started.”

Toynes estimates Madison has a dozen or more homeless kids. There are at least 3,400 in the district. That doesn’t always mean they’re sleeping in a car or under a bridge. Officially, they may not be living with parents. Maybe they’re sofa-surfing with friends, or staying with a relative for a week -- or a month.

The district is counting on student volunteers to spread the word about the drop-in center and to get kids comfortable in visiting. Toynes recruited senior Eboni Lloyd to help with the effort.

“We come and we like sit and talk to the student and if we know a student that needs something, we direct them here,” Eboni says.

Serita Johnson came in Monday morning to check out the center just because she was curious.

“When Eboni told me about it, she summed it up," Serita said. "She was like 'if you ever need anything, if you ever just want to know something, if you’re just confused about something, you can just come up here and they can help you with what you need.' I was like, 'what are you talking about?' And she was like 'home, school, like they can help you with everything you need.' I was like 'OK.'"

Keith Price is here to help. He's executive director of the non-profit Focus on Teens, and was at Madison Monday. He works with the district at these drop-in centers. His group focuses on those who may have drug or suicide problems, or need a place to live.

“We open up our drop-in center between 7:30 and 8:00,” Price says. “Our thinking is that anybody that comes to our drop-in center early, generally it’s not because the bus is early. Something’s going on and that’s OK. So we welcome them.”

Drop-in centers help draw out homeless kids too embarrassed to admit it. Price says they shouldn’t be ashamed, but admired, because they’re still in school.

“That is a major step. They have their toe in the water," Price says. "I’m not working with a youngster not in school/  I would do it, but I’m working with a kid that’s in school. And if they show that kind of moxie, you can build on it. You can build on that foundation cause that’s huge. Cause their alternative is to be gone."

Another drop-in center is scheduled to open next week at Samuell High in South Dallas. 

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