Special to The Dallas Examiner
Ashley Marshall, manager of Dallas ISD’s Homeless Education program, sees her five-person team as a kind of “9-1-1- department.”
On a day-to-day basis, the most important service the team provides is making sure homeless students get enrolled. The department also helps arrange transportation to school, provides uniforms as well as hygiene and school supplies and makes referrals to additional resources for food, housing, counseling and medical services as needed.
But when there’s a major catastrophe, such as the recent collapse of an apartment building in Southeast Dallas, or last winter’s storm, or the pandemic – whenever students are displaced – the Homeless Education staff serves as vital connectors.
“We connect families to resources,” Marshall said. “And we try to train people at the campus level on how to find resources. We also want people to advocate for themselves.”
As the district marks Homeless Youth Awareness Month in November, Marshall’s main goal is to let unhoused families and students know that it’s okay to let their situation be known and to ask for help.
“How do we get our kids and our families to know that it’s okay to advocate for themselves and tell us their situation? I used to always say we’re only one paycheck from being homeless. And then the pandemic really drove that home,” she said. “Suddenly, people who never had to ask for food were out there in line with hundreds of other cars, waiting for that box of food. The pandemic shone a light on the fact that there are homeless families in Dallas.”
Last year, the district counted 4,400 students as homeless, the most Marshall has seen in her six years on the job, and that could be an undercount, she stated because, “A lot of them just don’t say.”
The department of five can’t provide all the resources families need.
“So now we’re trying to train schools. How do they get their own food pantry going? How do they get their own Amazon wish list? Some schools, like Woodrow Wilson, have done a splendid job of getting that done,” Marshall said. “We want to get that education out to folks to figure out what are all the other ways we can get help for our families, and how do we tap into our school community.
“The biggest thing we want people to know is that we’re here. We’ve been here for 20 years. It’s one of those departments where you don’t know you need us until you need us.”