Irving businesses, leaders support opening of homeless shelter for boys

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Nov. 5, 2015

Teenagers and young adults who face some traumatic circumstances in life could soon find a respite.

La Buena Vida Youth Leadership Foundation will celebrate opening its homeless shelter for boys at noon Tuesday at La Buena Vida House, 200 Alpine Court.

“They won’t be gangster, druggie kids,” said Joy Goodrum, executive director of La Buena Vida. “These are kids that lost their parents through terminal illness, suicide, incarceration, addiction and abuse.

“Some are just abandoned.”

Goodrum said she expects three boys to be part of the initial move-in process once the house opens.

To be eligible, the boys of La Buena Vida must be between the ages of 17 and 21, pass a drug test and background check, attend high school, work a job and follow the rules of the house.

“We chose those ages because it’s easier to get their lives on track if there aren’t legal issues with a parent showing up,” Goodrum said.

La Buena Vida collaborates with Winfrey Academy, Irving ISD and Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD’s Ranchview High School to identify those who might be eligible.

According to Irving ISD, 829 students in all Irving ISD grade levels (210 of whom were in high school) were identified as homeless in the 2014-15 school year. Of those, 65 high school students were considered unaccompanied youth, not living with a parent or legal guardian. Those numbers were down from the previous school year, when 1,255 students in all grade levels — and 371 in high school — identified as homeless. Of those, 125 high school students identified as unaccompanied.

Goodrum expects the shelter to fill fast. La Buena Vida will find a way to help any teen that needs a home once its rooms are past capacity, she said.

“Sometimes it’s just the matter of giving them $5 to help get them something to eat,” she said. “But they’re surprised that someone will just give them the money or the food.”

Goodrum, 43, said that the boys always ask why they’re receiving help and what people want in return.

“They don’t comprehend people just being kind to them, and that’s sad,” she said. “But once it clicks, they do anything they can to not let you down.”

Their grades and attendance improve when they have the stability of a place to live, Goodrum said.

“This is what’s going to be our future workforce in Irving,” she said. “Why not give them all the tools they need to be great?”

Previously, La Buena Vida housed homeless boys and girls with volunteers. The organization will continue to place girls with volunteers until it can build a shelter for them. Siblings of different genders who don’t want to be split up will also stay in volunteer homes.

“We plan to get this house settled and filled and start on the girls’ home, also in Irving,” Goodrum said.

Goodrum isn’t worried about the boys acclimating to living on aid. The biggest problem, she said, is “boys being teenage boys and sneaking out.”

“But we’re teaching them how to do things on their own and accomplish things on their own,” she said.

Seven boys who have been through La Buena Vida programs went on to North Lake College. Another went on a full ride to University of Dallas to study writing and anthropology. But Goodrum recognizes that a four-year college might not be an option for many of them.

“If that’s their reality, let’s show them other great options so they’re not working at the car wash the rest of their life,” she said. “We’re going to take them around and find what trades they are interested in, visit local trade schools and help them network.”

The teens are required to open savings accounts and deposit at least half of each paycheck from their part-time jobs. La Buena Vida will also teach them how to pay bills, build credit, buy a car and budget so they are prepared to live alone after graduation.

“[Dallas Area Rapid Transit] will come in and teach them the responsibility of getting them from one place to another on public transit,” Goodrum said. “It’s intimidating if you’re young and not familiar with the DART system.”

TXU and the Texas Trees Foundation have pledged to teach the boys landscaping, drip irrigation, how to grow seasonal crops and proper watering practices twice a year. They will also help the boys build raised gardens to grow their own produce.

“It’s great because we have people in the community with all these different skill sets that are willing to teach these boys,” Goodrum said. “They’re going to be able to function in life easier than most of their friends.”

Goodrum hired Benjamin Williams, 48, the director of Case Management, to live in the home, conduct counseling and ensure the boys attend school, complete homework and follow the rules of the house. Williams recently retired from the Navy after 28 years and worked with homeless programs in Dallas.

“I just want to help and get to them before the streets get to them,” he said. “These are good kids.”

Williams agreed that the La Buena House, the first area shelter designated specifically for boys, is needed.

“The problem for homeless boys everywhere is that there are more resources for ladies than men,” he said. “Everyone assumes boys have a drug or alcohol problem, and that’s not the case.”

The 4,000-square-foot home is divided to three living areas: upstairs and downstairs living areas for boys and a downstairs living area for Williams. The home boasts eight bedrooms and bathrooms and three kitchens. Six of the bedrooms and bathrooms, and two of the kitchens, are for the boys.

Target provided a large dining table, and DeVry University furnished and decorated the kitchen.

“Several organizations, companies, churches, restaurants and families want to conduct cooking classes every week,” she said. “It gives the boys the time to talk to somebody while they learn skills.”

Upstairs, the boys will have home meetings, counseling sessions and leadership training, and they will be able to hang out and watch TV. Argus IT Services has donated computers for a study area downstairs. La Buena Vida is still looking for a sponsor to help provide cubicles.

Dallas Furniture Bank donated 10 twin beds. Eric Mahame at Liberty Mutual Insurance in Irving said the company recently had a charitable donations drive where it donated $10 from any quote given, and that money will help decorate one of the rooms.

“We only raised about $1,000 for them, but are trying to find other ways to donate more,” he said. “I’m a big believer in hope and giving these kids hope.”

Goodrum said the house wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the community, both in Irving and elsewhere — like Connecticut-based company Laticrete and Mexico-based company InterCeramic.

Because of the amount of people living in the house, Goodrum was told she needed to install commercial-grade fireproofing, which cut a large, unexpected chunk from her budget. She had just enough tiles for the kitchen and worried how to pay for anything but low-grade carpet on the floor.

“Obviously, that’s not suitable for a home of boys trekking God knows what on their shoes,” she said.

So, Goodrum emailed InterCeramic and asked for tile for the hallways. The next day, company representatives called and donated tile for the entire house. InterCeramic also contacted its partners at Laticrete, which then donated all the grout and adhesives for the job.

“That was not a cheap thing for them to give and I couldn’t believe it,” Goodrum said. “It’s nice to see that we have the community wanting to get involved and do something for these kids.”

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