A Promise to Improve the Lives of At-Risk Youth

October 4, 2016

by Renee Cossman

Our own Renee Cossman sat down with Dr. Ashley Lind, CEO of Promise House, a Dallas-based organization covering the needs of homeless, runaway and at-risk youth in North Texas. FleishmanHillard’s Dallas office has teamed up with Promise House to build awareness for the organization’s wide variety of services.

Q: What does Promise House do?

“My parents were evicted so I spent last night sleeping on a bench in the park.”

“My grandmother used to abuse me but I was too scared to tell anyone. So I ran away from home.” “I have been removed from my home by Child Protective Services and there are no family members that have stepped up to provide temporary placement for me.”

Lind: At Promise House we hear stories like this every day, and we work tirelessly to provide children and teens who have nowhere else to go with food, shelter and hope for a better life. It is important to understand that these kids seek services at the most difficult time in their lives. Even though they are experiencing an overwhelming crisis, they have no loving caretaker to ease their suffering at their time of need. Lost and alone, Promise House becomes a temporary respite until life can stabilize.

Promise House is one of the only organizations in Dallas County designed to accommodate abused, displaced and runaway young people between the ages of 0 and 24. Additionally, Promise House operates the ONLY emergency shelter in the area that accepts unaccompanied youth who are not in the custody of Child Protective Services. We operate with an open door policy, accepting self-referrals and guardian requests for residential assistance during times of intense discord as well as referrals from CPS, counselors and schools. One in 30 youth (nearly 2.5 million children of K-12 school age) are now homeless in the US, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. On any given night, more than 1,200 youth in Dallas County lack stable shelter. So, our services are vital.

Because we are very aware that crisis can strike even the most stable families, Promise House strives to provide care to those in the greatest need by providing an array of services that promote youth and family stabilization. With this in mind, Promise House programs range from residential care including: emergency shelter, transitional housing, and a pregnant and parenting maternity home. Counseling, education, and outreach to abandoned and abused youth serve as preventative resources for community members.

Once an individual enters services, efforts are made to cover critical needs first. These services are focused on extending shelter, food, clothing, and medical care to clients who lack day to day living essentials. As the kids begin to acclimate to supportive care, wrap around services are initiated to maximize future successful independent living skills. On-site educational opportunities get the youth back on track academically and mental health care, intensive case management, life-skills training lay the groundwork for more disciplined efforts to re-establish themselves as part of a family unit, in a group home or independent living environments. The more engaged they are in the array of services, the greater their chances are for long-term success.

Q: How does the theme of inclusion relate to Promise House’s work?

Lind: Inclusion is a primary tenet for Promise House, embodied in every action we take. Promise House is the only source of support in Dallas County that welcomes unaccompanied youth regardless of their status as foster children, wards of the state, runaways, delinquents, throwaways, or victims of abuse. We are a non-denominational institution and accept clients of any sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. We are committed to providing a safe and positive environment for every individual who walks through our doors.

Our 2016- 2019 Strategic Plan emphasizes the concept of inclusion as a primary emphasis of our work in the coming years. Since we are aware that between 20-40% of homeless youth are coping with LGBT related concerns, Promise House endeavors to expand services for this population. This will enhance the residential environment at Promise House to better accommodate a wide variety of unique concerns confronted by these kids.

The rising numbers of youth exposed to sex trafficking present a litany of trauma related behaviors, safety needs, medical concerns and substance related issues that are our focus at the present time. We understand that surviving trafficking requires full acceptance of the individual in the midst of a life altering crisis. Our goal is to welcome these survivors (and all survivors for that matter) with open arms and to provide the resources to establish a stable environment fostering long-term recovery.

Q: What’s next for Promise House?

Lind: Promise House is an essential to the success of a healthy community. It is clear that children that find resources and receive early intervention fair better in the long-term. Our vision is to remain responsive to the community needs and to have the capacity to serve all of the children who need our care. We are land locked at the present time and as a result children in need of our services may be turned away if we are at capacity. We are currently assessing our residential facilities to determine the best approach to providing more support to our community as the demand dictates. This may involve adding on to our current facility or renting additional property to accommodate the need. We, of course, will continue to be mission driven in our decision making regarding specific needs of abused and abandoned youth. The dream is to continue to provide prevention and intervention services together with the goal of eliminating the need for residential care for children without guardians. While that dream is actualizing, we will continue to take an agile approach to serving those in need. Some of our focus areas over the next couple of years include:

  • Enhancing outreach efforts to local youth in crisis by:
    • Targeting demographics more likely to experience abuse, family discord and homelessness, including LGBT youth and trafficking survivors.
    • Connecting with law enforcement officers and patrol officers to address the unique needs of youth living on the street and to encourage immediate drop off when youth are removed from dangerous situations.
    • Continuing to support the placement needs of abused and abandoned children in the custody of Child Protective Services.
  • Further increasing residential capacity to better serve ongoing demand.
  • Reinvigorating the Outreach Shelter, the only emergency shelter in Dallas County serving young adults in crisis ages 18-21. While this program is an ongoing need, funding modifications have severely limited the availability of the full scope of services available to this age group. The new strategic plan outlines steps to effectively and sustainably restore the Outreach Shelter as a stand-alone program.

Q: What role does communication play in advancing social change?

Lind: Promise House cannot do the work we do without community support. It is essential that we network with potential funders, volunteers, and community partners to achieve our mission of ending youth homelessness. Social change of this magnitude requires a robust and engaging communications campaign to ensure that the community is aware of the issue of youth homelessness and the resources we provide to combat it.