The Dallas Homeless Commission appointed to find solutions to the city’s homeless problem focused on homeless children at a meeting Tuesday evening.
The meeting was set for 6 to 8 p.m. at North Dallas High School, where about 180 homeless children attended classes last school year.
The Dallas Independent School District reported a total of about 3,600 homeless children were enrolled last year, a 15-percent increase from the year before.
Mark Pierce, the district's homeless program manager, said the numbers have grown each year as he works to serve those students with more than just an education.
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"There was a group of kids out there that a lot of people don't know about, a group of homelessness. And that's the teens – the throw away kids, the runaway kids, the kids that have no place to go," Pierce said.
One formerly homeless student who graduated from North Dallas High School is Paula Ramos. She said Mr. Pierce helped her complete her classes.
"He was there to help me with school supplies," she said. "I had trouble finding a way to get paper and pencils. And then he also helped me with food. When I was hungry, he would help."
Incarnation House is a new place for homeless kids around the corner from North Dallas High School on Central Expressway.
The offshoot of a church across the street from North Dallas High School opened in January.
The place has computers for school work, art and music equipment along with shower and laundry facilities kids take for granted elsewhere.
"This is really a program. It isn't a place to just hang out. But, we have some really nice things to do once they get here," Incarnation House Executive Director Teresa Keenan said.
Incarnation House offers after school programs for homeless kids from 4 to 8 p.m. and also a before school program at the high school.
"We really try to focus on their needs, whether it's educational needs, or immediate needs like clothes and food and toiletries," Incarnation House Program Manager Laura Mendoza said. "It's the kids sleeping on couches in their grandparents' house, or living two families to an apartment, or living in a hotel. We have a bunch of kids and their families living in hotels over off of I-35. Really anything that's not stable, that's not adequate, that can change immediately."
Paula Ramos said Laura Mendoza helped her in an earlier version of the support program for North Dallas High School homeless kids.
Now, living in Mesquite, Ramos is serving this summer as a camp counselor for homeless elementary school kids at the Lake West YMCA in West Dallas.
"I love to give back to students who had trouble like me, and especially so young, it hurts me to see them like that," she said.
Ramos is also college student and she hopes the kids she is helping now complete their education.
"Even with their struggles I hope they try to go to school. Even if they have these problems," Ramos said.
The Dallas Homeless Commission was to hear from Mark Pierce and Teresa Keenan Tuesday evening about success stories and the growing challenge to serve other homeless kids.
Pierce said 10 Dallas high schools now have support program for homeless kids, but he hopes to see them at all of the two dozen or so high schools in Dallas before he retires because he said the need is citywide.
Pierce also said Dallas shelters only provide 48 hours of housing for homeless kids.
"If they need some kind of assistance, 48 hours isn't enough. So we really need to be able to expand that," Pierce said.
Public meetings are set for the next five weeks on different aspects of the Dallas Homelessness problem. Recommendations will then be prepared for the mayor and Dallas City Council.