Accurate statistics on the number of homeless children living in Dallas are hard to come by, but in 2017 there were more than 4,000 homeless students enrolled in Dallas ISD. Whatever the exact number, homelessness is not a problem limited to adults. Many organizations in Dallas work with the issues surrounding homelessness, including housing, job training, good insecurity, and mental health.
Vogel Alcove, a nonprofit preschool for children between 6 weeks and 6 years of age, specifically addresses the challenges facing families with children. Its goal is to help kids and their parents get the assistance they need by providing programs for early childhood development, resources for school-age children, and counseling services for families.
Jamie Perkins, a 16-year-old student at Yavneh Academy, volunteers at Vogel Alcove twice a week when school is in session and every day on breaks. Her family as been a part of Vogel Alcove’s story for 19 years, from its start in a five-classroom building to its 2014 move to the old City Park Elementary School, a location that includes a gym, a yard, a playground, a therapeutic garden to help children cope with trauma, and a “Gap Camp” for school-age children on break from class. Perkins’ father is a board member, and her mother is a volunteer who has been bringing Perkins to the nonprofit since she was 7 years old. A giving spirit was instilled in her at an early age. Perkins recalls birthdays where she would give half of her presents to the kids at Vogel Alcove. Perkins has long loved the organization and its people, and knew she could do something more.
One of her teachers at Yavneh Academy suggested that she start a project called the “Humans of Vogel Alcove,” a social media campaign to get the stories and faces of families at Vogel into the world. It is inspired by the “Humans of New York” project, a photo blog and portrait series offering a glimpse into the lives of everyday New Yorkers.
Perkins’ main goal with this new project is to change the way homeless families are viewed. When she mentions Vogel Alcove, not many people recognize what it is, Perkins says. Over time she realized too often we overlook some of the neediest people in our society. “These parents have a voice, a story. [They are] good people,” Perkins says.
Perkins says there are many misconceptions about people experiencing homelessness. “People think they are lazy or they are bad people,” she says. “And everyone thinks they are on drugs and that they chose drugs over their children and their families and their lives.” According to Vogel Alcove, about 95 percent of the families in Vogel Alcove are headed by single mothers. Many of them are victims of domestic abuse.
For that reason and others, many of the families cannot be photographed or have their names attached to a public project. A woman named Ms. W, an alias given for the sake of her and her family’s privacy, shared a part of her story with Perkins. When she went into the hospital to have her daughter, her and her fiancé were going through a difficult time. After her child was born and she was able to leave the hospital, Ms. W had nowhere to go. Her fiancé, in short, abandoned the family, Ms. W told Perkins.
For more than 8 months, Ms. W and her child stayed with friends and in hotels, sometimes sleeping in her car or in churches. Finally they were taken in by the Salvation Army and accepted into the Vogel Alcove program. That’s when things turned around, Ms. W told Perkins. Her daughter has thrived, and Ms. W has made strides to get her life back where she wants it to be for her and her family. She will have her own house soon and has already gone back to school with plans to become a social worker and advocate for the homeless.
“I think that when you see somebody living in a shelter, people put us all in a bubble,” Ms. W says in a post on the “Humans of Vogel Alcove” page. “Some of us belong in that bubble but some of us don’t. My past does not define me. The financial troubles I’ve had do not define me. I can still be a better person. I always say I may live in a shelter but I will never look like I live in a shelter. I’ve become stronger and more independent since this happened. I’ve never been one that looks for somebody to hold my hand, I’m very strong willed.”
That’s just one family’s story. Every day about 100 children come through Vogel Alcove’s doors. In the program, families get clothes for their children, as well as toys and diapers. They receive help with housing and furniture. At Christmastime, Vogel Alcove sets up a store where parents can choose gifts for their families at no cost. Each parent gets a case manager to listen to them and help them along their path. When Perkins talks to a parent about what they want for their children, she finds that it’s no different than what every other parent wants—for their child to be happy, to get a good education, to grow up in a safe and loving home.
Vogel Alcove partners with other organizations to make this happen, including Exodus Ministry, which is dedicated to helping women who were incarcerated reunite with their children, and with Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support, a safe haven for women who have been victims of domestic abuse to get off the grid and rebuild their lives.
Perkins encourages everyone to follow “Humans of Vogel Alcove” on Instagram and Facebook, where she is hopeful reading the stories and seeing the faces will help do some good. Perkins is also raising money for the nonprofit, and you can donate here.