DISD, nonprofits propose homeless student shelter
Plan calls for shuttered school to have 35 beds, provide support services
There are at least 112 high school students in Dallas ISD who live unaccompanied, in a car, park, campground or abandoned building.
But that number could be reduced by a third. DISD is poised to take a big step in helping its homeless student population.
During Thursday’s board briefing, DISD trustees saw the first draft of an agreement to collaborate with nonprofits Promise House and Citysquare and philanthropist group Social Venture Partners Dallas to create a first-of-its-kind shelter for students.
The effort, called After8Toeducate, would use a shuttered DISD campus in Fair Park — Fannie C. Harris Elementary on East Grand Avenue — as a 35-bed shelter, providing 14- to 21-yearold students a place to stay as well as extra education help and support services. It also would serve as a 24/7 dropin center for the district’s
3,500 students who lack a fixed nighttime residence, giving immediate assistance with food, laundry, hygiene, clothing and other services.
“I think this is a serious, unmet need for a lot of our kids,” trustee Dustin Marshall told district administrators, “and I’m ecstatic that we’re addressing them. Thank for your partnership and for driving a coalition of very qualified nonprofits to work with the district.”
The district would grant the use of the building, pay for utilities, custodial help and security, and provide meal services during the week. According to estimates by Sherry West Christian, the assistant superintendent for student services, the district would pay no more than $135,000 per year for what could be as long as a 17-year agreement.
“I know we are in times of budget need, and so I understand the concerns about adding more money,” Christian said.
She later explained that the district is negotiating with Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax to potentially allow the city to pick up utilities or security costs.
The After8 coalition would pay the majority of the cost for the shelter, which is slated for a soft opening next summer if DISD trustees approve the plan. The nonprofit would raise around $2 million to renovate the elementary school, then provide around the same amount yearly for programming and services.
There were concerns from some trustees about the lan- guage in the draft agreement. Trustee Joyce Foreman was worried that the agreement, if unchanged, could potentially make DISD responsible for replacing big-ticket items such as HVAC systems or roofs if they failed during the collaboration. Christian said $20,000 a year would be set aside for maintenance costs.
“You are saying good things, but this document that’s in front of me does not cover that,” Foreman said. “So, the document really does need to be revisited.”
Trustee Audrey Pinkerton called it a “no-brainer” for DISD to provide the building and limited utilities, grounds-keeping and maintenance costs. But she expressed philosophical concerns about doing more than that, since the district was funded to teach “kids in a school,” and not tackle larger societal woes.
“I worry about what kind of message it sends if we sign up to pay the bill ... then the next time and the next time and the next time, it becomes a precedent,” Pinkerton said. “That Dallas ISD is somehow a charity in meeting these societal needs. And so I’m really wrestling with this particular dilemma here.”
Board president Dan Micciche said he would support the plan, but would ask DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa to consider some of the trustees’ concerns about the contract. If those could be addressed in a timely fashion, trustees would vote to finalize the agreement later this month. If not, Micciche would push the vote to November.