When we think of people who are homeless, we often picture adults. But back in the ’80s, Nancy Boyd and Kay Goodman caught on to a silent population in Collin County’s homeless community. As employees of Plano Independent School District, they saw students basically living out of their lockers and sleeping in parks. The women decided to do something about it and in 1988 founded City House, which offers programs for children and young adults. To date, the organization has helped over 15,000 youth by providing emergency shelter for kids 17 and younger (also known as My Friends House) and transitional living homes for ages 18–24, in addition to resources such as case management and therapy.
We visited the City House office in Plano to chat with CEO Sheri Messer (who actually became involved as a volunteer) about how the organization is changing the lives of local kids and young adults.
Could you tell me a little bit about the backstory of City House? What inspired Nancy and Kay to found it?
I was reading one of the articles displayed here from the Dallas Times Herald. There was a quote by Nancy, and she said that there was a waitlist sooner than she expected; there was just such a need to fill in the community.
They started out as a six-bed teen shelter. Now, 31 years later, we have a total of 48 beds. We know our target population that we care for is birth up through 24 and we specialize in that; all of our staff is trained to specifically care for this population and meet them where they are. That’s what I love. It doesn’t matter where you are when you come in. They make a case plan for that person, and they help them along the way.
Can you talk about one or two success stories?
I wasn’t here when this client was at City House—it was in earlier days—but I have come to know this person in an adult capacity. This person is free of any addictions, is successful, has raised their child and is just a beautiful person. I know them personally and from their background, just to be able to see they are a thriving successful, independent, giving person.
We also have had a recent graduate that is young. They come in different levels of trauma, and we saw this person change and adapt the mindset to work the program. [The person] was successful, had a job, savings, was able to graduate and become independent, but was able to also share wisdom to the kids that were still in the program. It was very powerful because having a peer say, “You know it’s hard work but it’s worth it and I’ve learned this,” is so encouraging. I think that’s the beauty.
What does the day-to-day look like for someone in My Friends House?
It is just like you would be in a home. They get them up in the morning. They brush their teeth, get ready, and have breakfast. We have the staff cook breakfast for them. Everybody eats together. And then the staff knows where kids need to go. The staffer, given their little pool of kids, gets in the car and takes them to school and then the kids come back. If there are underage kids, there’s always staff at the shelter 24/7. I think around 5:30, 6pm they will all have dinner together, just like a family, and then they’ll go into their evening routine.
I saw in your video online that there was an American Idol contestant highlighted. Did he come from this program?
Yes, he sure did. Ron Bultongez. He’s from the Congo. He was in our shelter and our transitional living program. I’ll never forget the day he was moving into transition; I heard this beautiful voice singing “Hallelujah.” I get chills thinking about it. I came out and it was Ron. He took that passion and really started, taught himself how to play the guitar, and has written some music. We started adding music therapy, pet therapy, art therapy—there’s an artist that comes in—to get [the kids] exposed.
What would you like the Collin County community to know about what you’re doing here and how big an impact it’s having on these kids?
The county needs to recognize that this is an issue––it really is an issue. We’re in a growing community and it is not going away. It makes you wish that you didn’t have to have these services, but they are so important for our community. The community needs to rally behind agencies like ours that really make a difference. We are breaking the homeless cycle for these young adults. We’re giving them opportunities. They deserve it. The perception that Collin County is this wealthy county and doesn’t have this issue is absolutely not true.