This summer I worked with an organization in downtown Dallas called Family Gateway, which serves homeless families with children. Unfortunately Dallas has over 5,000 homeless children, and in response, Family Gateway is determined to do everything possible to end child homelessness in the city. To do so, they follow the “housing first” model, currently endorsed by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness as the best practice for ending chronic homelessness in America.

Organizations following this model believe that homeless families are best able to address the factors causing their homelessness, such as lack of education and employment or problems with substance abuse, once they have the stability of permanent supportive housing. So, before providing their clients with any other services, Family Gateway first provides them with residency at their dormitory-style housing center downtown. Cities that adopt the “housing first” model often see the number of homeless decrease, as well as the costs associated for caring for the homeless, as policing and emergency room costs are dramatically reduced.

In addition to housing, Family Gateway also provides its clients with comprehensive case management, which includes mental and physical health care, employment readiness and job training, financial literacy classes, and educational support. By providing both permanent housing and case management, Family Gateway helps its clients achieve independence and self-sufficiency as soon as possible, with the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty for the children under their care.

I worked directly with these children, providing them with both education and entertainment during their summer vacation. Many of them are incredibly sweet and fun to be around, just like any other group of kids, and they’ve done nothing to deserve the pain and suffering they’ve already been through in their short lives. When we asked the kids where they were going to school in the fall, almost all of them had no idea, because they’ve moved around so much that they didn’t know which school they’d attend. When I asked a kid if he wanted to make a craft for his grandmother, whom he had visited the day before, he replied, “My grandmother doesn’t like me. She kicked my mom and I out. That’s why we live here.”

Unfortunately, these incidents are probably just skimming the surface of the struggles these children have endured. I hope that, through my presence, I added a bit of joy into their lives. If you’d like to help out the most vulnerable members of the Dallas community, the homeless children, please visit familygateway.org and make a donation.