Mike Moran, the principal at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas, says oftentimes when students are homeless, they're too embarrassed to tell anyone.
"A lot of times it is revealed that there's a temporary living situation, they're in a motel, they're now staying with an aunt and uncle," he says.
Principal Moran has heard similar stories about 50, or so, kids at his school, just one of dozens of high schools in the district. That's why Dallas schools have put something called a drop-in center at nearly every high school in the district.
At Bryan Adams, the drop-in center is a converted classroom that offers a lot that a homeless student might need: coffee, packaged foods, deodorant, a new backpack, even counseling. Some local non-profits lend supplies and volunteers.
"They're trying to make ends meet and are having a hard time making it," Moran says about his students. Across the district, there are an estimated 3,600 homeless students.
Moran suspects this drop-in center could serve up to 200 kids at Bryan Adams, about 10 percent of the student body, where 90 percent are economically disadvantaged.
Jody Martin works at the school and hopes word spreads quickly about the center, "I mean, even if it's a kid just hearing that 'Hey, there's, you know, muffins and apple juice,' and they're going to know there are resources out there."
Martin grew up in Australia and says she wishes she'd had a drop-in center as a kid. "I didn't' have support at home ... You just need to know someone cares, because you don't have that at home."
Kameron is a senior at Bryan Adams — we aren't using his last name to protect his privacy — and he calls the drop-in center a big deal.
Especially, he says, for kids without parents in the picture. "It also helps them if they need food, or they can't stay with their friends ... then help them go to a homeless shelter."
Kameron has needed all those services himself. He says his dad has been out of the picture for years and he had to leave home when things got bad with his mom. At that point, he qualified as homeless and needed help. He's now back home with his mom and is thinking ahead to college.
"I am shooting for something outside of the state – something new, pretty much," he says.
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
We're going to hear now about how one school district is providing services for homeless students. Across the country, there are more than a million homeless students, and an estimated 3,600 go to school in Dallas. The Dallas Independent School District has created drop-in centers in almost every high school where homeless students can get breakfast, a toothbrush, a pair of jeans, even counseling. Bill Zeeble of member station KERA visited one of them.
BILL ZEEBLE, BYLINE: A right turn down the first floor of Bryan Adams High School leads to the school's first-ever drop-in center on this, its very first day. It's Friday morning, an hour before class. A converted school room offers almost anything a homeless student might need from coffee and counseling to packaged foods, deodorant, even a stack of backpacks. Jody Martin works here helping parents get more involved with the school and their kids' education. She was worried nobody would show, so she's pleased that about a dozen students are quietly checking it out.
JODY MARTIN: That in itself says that they're curious, and they're going to tell their friends, I mean, even if it's a kid just hearing that, hey, there's, you know, muffins and apple juice. And they're going to know that, hey, there are resources out there.
ZEEBLE: In the weeks leading up to this opening day, Martin put the word out around school about the drop-in center. Kameron is a senior at Bryan Adams High. We aren't using his last name to protect his privacy. He says he heard about it, showed up and calls it a big deal.
KAMERON: Because it's used to help students out that are not usually like self-sufficient, like their parents don't help them out or anything. So it helps them if they need food or if they can't stay with their friends, then helping them go to a homeless shelter. They also provide different stuff for the students.
ZEEBLE: Kameron's needed all those services and more. He says his dad's been out of the picture for years. And things got so bad with his mom, she kicked him out of the house. That helped qualify him as homeless. Kameron got help through Child Protective Services, and at age 17 - officially a minor - became his own legal guardian. He's now back home with his mother and dreams of getting out - to college.
KAMERON: I am shooting for something like outside of the state. I'm going to come back. It's just that I need to leave for a little bit.
ZEEBLE: Students in tough situations say these drop-in centers help them stay in school. Homeless doesn't necessarily mean you're on the street. Sometimes money's so tight in the family, parents pay by the week for a place. Other students sofa surf with friends or they've been kicked out because they're lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Growing up in Australia, Jody Martin, with her own family issues, wishes she'd had a drop-in center as a kid.
MARTIN: I didn't have support at home, so it would have been good to know that there was a drop-in center with resources for me. Sorry. I mean, it hits close to home, you know. I see these kids and, I mean, sometimes it's a matter of they just need to know that someone cares 'cause sometimes you do. You just need to know that someone cares because you don't have that at home.
ZEEBLE: Mike Moran, Bryan Adams' assistant principal, suspects this new drop-in center could serve up to 200 kids here. That's 10 percent of the school population, where 90 percent are minorities, and 90 percent are economically disadvantaged. Those numbers come close to reflecting the district as a whole. Moran says most kids are too embarrassed to tell anyone they're homeless or they're struggling.
MIKE MORAN: A lot of times, it is revealed that there's a temporary living situation. They're in a motel. They're now staying with aunt and uncle, or even in worst-case scenarios, people have gotten deported. And, you know, they're trying to make ends meet. And they're having a hard time making it to school. So just those anecdotal conversations, we know that there's more than 50 students.
ZEEBLE: And that's just the case in this one Dallas high school in a district with an estimated 3,600 homeless students. For NPR News, I'm Bill Zeeble in Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.