Teen Homelessness Event Fosters Empathy, Awareness

Promise House Sleep Out
The inaugural Promise House Sleep Out — dubbed "A Night Under the Stars" — raised more than $82,000 to benefit Promise House, an Oak Cliff nonprofit that provides resources for homeless youth and runaway teens.

Promise House Sleep Out Raises Awareness and Funds For Homeless

DALLAS—What comes to mind when you think of a homeless individual? Is it the iconic dirty, tattered, malnourished man panhandling at a busy intersection? Seldom do we think that our child’s teammate or the quiet kid who sits blankly at the bus stop could be just desolate.

Recently, community members got an opportunity to experience it firsthand.

Sleep Out–A Night Under the Stars called North Texas’ top business and community leaders to sleep outside to raise awareness and funds for homeless, runaway and at-risk youth. Participants pledged to raise a minimum of $5,000.

“Youth homelessness is an issue that more than 1,200 children have to face every night here in Dallas,” said Dr. Ashley Lind, President and CEO of Promise House. “We hosted this event to bring awareness to the problem. Promise House is here to provide a safe space where these children can get the care they truly need.”

Participants spent the night in the Promise House parking lot learning about the issues that homeless youth face and what the community can do to help youth in crisis. Promise House provided sleeping bags, cardboard and beanies.

In conjunction with National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and National Runaway Prevention Month, A Night Under the Stars sought to educate the community about youth experiencing homelessness, inspire change and shine a light on youth homelessness!

Sleep Out participants learn about the issues facing homeless youth.
Sleep Out participants learn about the issues facing homeless youth.

Homelessness Reality

Unlike those experiencing real homelessness, sleepers had access to restrooms, on-site security, food and beverages.

“I would stay one weekend with a friend and then another couple of days with another friend,” said Mississippi native Jasmine. She now lives in the Wesley Inn, a program sponsored by the Promise House.

The Wesley Inn Program of Promise House guides 14 through 20-year-old homeless pregnant and parenting teen mothers to become healthy, independent and nurturing parents.

As a group residence for homeless teen mothers and their children, the Wesley Inn Program provides a safe residence for up to 12 moms and babies.
But before Jasmine was able to rest at the Wesley Inn she was ‘sofa surfing’ between her friend’s homes.

“I didn’t like it because I had my baby and school on my mind and I didn’t know where I was going to lay my head from night to night,” said the 15-year-old. “I called Promise House on April 28 and they told me that I could move in April 29.”

A Growing Epidemic

Not to be confused with ‘couch surfing’ which is a term used by travelers seeking cheap accommodations from town to town. Recently ‘couch surfing’ has emerged as a growing trend among teenage runaways.

Sources say that thousands of homeless Dallas teens run away each year.

“Over 1,000 teens are on the streets or sofa surfing each night in Dallas,” said Dr. Ashley Lind, president of Promise House. “Promise House has been the consistent voice for change on this issue for close to 25 years.”

“As the only agency to specifically serve the homeless, runaway and abandoned teenage population in Dallas, we believe it is imperative that the people of Dallas and the city government understand that just because teens have grown-up bodies, it doesn’t mean they are grown up. Most runaways are lost, alone and terrified. They require specialized care that is usually not offered at adult shelters.”

Jasmine’s Story

After her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer she moved to Dallas with her aunt and Jasmine’s world was turned completely upside down.

When she first arrived Jasmine didn’t know many people. Then she found herself at odds with the only family she knows in Texas.

“…My mom had ovarian cancer and my dad was in ICU. I didn’t want to leave my mom while she was sick,” said Jasmine. ”But she didn’t want us around while she did her chemo [therapy]. She didn’t want us to see her sick.”

So Jasmine and her now 17-year-old brother where sent away. Her brother now is a father in his own right, remains in Heidelberg, Mississippi with their maternal grandmother. And Jasmine now in Dallas recently gave birth to a little girl of her own.

“I moved away from my aunt because she didn’t approve of me being pregnant. She wanted me to get an abortion, but I wanted to keep my baby. So I stayed with some friends.”

Jasmine recently phased into transitional housing, which will teach her even more independence, with direct supervision and lifestyle classes of course.

“At first I was nervous,” said Jasmine. “I didn’t want to get kicked out. But they taught me how to be independent and not to depend on others. I was getting my prenatal care. I wasn’t getting that before then and now I have a healthy baby.”

The National Coalition for the Homeless says that half of all runaways left home because of a disagreement with a parent or guardian. Furthermore, a tenth of homeless and runaway females are reportedly pregnant.

A study space in the Wesley Inn is repurposed by volunteers from "Dwell with Dignity." The group of North Texas designers bring good design to those less fortunate, inspiring them to maintain a standard of living they can be proud of and thrive in.
A study space in the Wesley Inn is repurposed by volunteers from “Dwell with Dignity.” The group of North Texas volunteer designers bring good design to those less fortunate.

Demand For Services Continues To Rise

Through information at her school Jasmine learned of Promise House and the programs that the Oak Cliff non-profit offered.

Promise House expects to see a 260-percent increase in the number of teens referred to it through the Street Outreach Program, which connects with teens living on the streets and assists them to find safe living arrangements.

The programs that have seen the greatest increase in demand are the Transitional Living and the Wesley Inn Programs.

Dr. .Ashley Lind
Dr. .Ashley Lind

Transitional Living, offers long-term housing for teens and young adults. The Wesley Inn Program, provides housing for pregnant and parenting teen mothers. These programs currently have the longest wait lists in the 31 year history of the agency.

Like many non-profits during a lean economic times, Promise House is seeing increased need, without the comparable increase in resources.

“During this difficult economic time, we need your support more than ever,” said Lind. “Help us be here for the next 30 years with our doors wide open to the most vulnerable teens in our community.”

“[Without Promise House] My life would be terrible I wouldn’t have anything for my baby and barely have anything for myself. I know I want to finish school,” said Jasmine, who wants to enter the medical field. “They helped me understand that I can do anything I put my mind to; because I have to set a career for me and my baby.”