The number of people living without a home or shelter in Dallas has risen over 700% in the last decade. And while the most visible homeless population are adults, last year, over 4,000 Dallas Independent School District students reported experiences of homelessness. The actual number is expected to be much higher.
In an attempt to protect the most vulnerable of these students, those living without a family, the Dallas ISD is partnering with non-profit groups After8ToEducate, Community Council of Greater Dallas, and Promise House. Earlier this month, the non-profit groups opened the Fannie C. Harris Youth Center, intending to give these kids a safe place to sleep and help to connect them with essential services they may need.
The Center, located in a converted 1950s schoolhouse, was designed with the help of a panel of formerly homeless teenagers who hope to make the space welcoming and not institutional feeling. As a result, the space is filled with bright murals, inspirational quotes, and enough space to give the potential long-term residents their own rooms. There are also rooms with multiple beds for sibling sets that would feel more comfortable staying together.
“The programs that are there to address youth homelessness are cookie-cutter programs,” said After8ToEducate founder Jorge Baldor. “The youth are molded into fitting the program, whereas the approach to [the Fannie C. Harris Youth Center] is totally different. The approach to this is: What are the youths’ needs, how do we address them to get the results that we need.”
One floor will house 14-18-year-olds and offer necessary services to help them finish high school. Residents on the 18-21-year-old floor will have access to job training, college enrollment help, or finding an apartment.
“It’s an all-needs-met kind of program,” Baldor said. “It’s all-encompassing.”
Baldor and his partners hope that this shelter can serve as a blueprint for others across the state.
“We wanted to offer an alternative, and show these kids that someone really cares about them, that someone acknowledges them and understands how valuable they are: as valuable as kids in any other part of this city,” Baldor said.