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Putting A Face On Teenage Homelessness

BJ Austin

Three dozen Dallas County organizations and advocates for the homeless want state lawmakers to focus on homeless teenagers, and are mapping strategy for the upcoming legislative session.

Harriet Boorhem runs Promise House in Oak Cliff. It provides shelter and services for homeless teenagers. She says 6,000 teenagers run away from home each year in Dallas County. Ten percent never return.

“There’s another group of kids, older teens, who are being just pushed out of their homes because of economic reasons,” Boorhem told 80 attendees at a forum on homeless teenagers. “Lots of our kids who are in our transitional living program, their families simply could not support them anymore. They’re like you’re 18, you gotta go. And, they don’t have anywhere to go.”

That’s what happened to Promise House client Myra Strange. She was 20, had a three-year-old son, was working, but living at home.

“My mom decided there was too much going on at the household, with income, my two sisters and my brother, plus my little one, said Strange. “She felt that I needed to go.”

A friend told her about Promise House, which provided a roof and new skills for the young mom. Strange will soon be going out on her own.

Another program targets homeless high school students. More than 1500 DISD students are registered as homeless and 84 of them are at North Dallas High School. That’s where the district’s first Drop-In Center will open later this month. David Pierce manages the DISD Homeless Education Program, and received applause from attendees when he announced the new center. Every Friday before classes students can drop into the home economics room and get services and basic things they may need.

“Church of the Incarnation is going to send down volunteers and they were offering to do laundry for them. I think a lot of these kids really need that,” Pierce said. “ We’re going to have a lot of things to give away: hygiene products, backpacks, school supplies.”

Pierce hopes this Drop-In Center becomes the prototype for programs at other schools. Harriet Boorhem says intervention with homeless teenagers prevents them from becoming chronically homeless adults.

“And that’s what I want the people in Austin and in Washington D.C. to understand that number one, it’s so much cheaper to deal with kids at this age; and number two, their possibilities are endless,” Boorhem said.

Programs such as these often depend on government funding and that’s why Boorhem is helping organize a letter writing campaign with photos to help lawmakers put a face on homeless teenagers when they start work on the budget next year. She says money for homeless programs took a big hit last legislative session, and they hope it will be restored.

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.