Story by Peter McKee. Photos by Jan Osborn.
They are often referred to as the hidden population. A glance at them would leave you with the impression that they are simply like everyone else their age, but they are dealing with a struggle most will never have to deal with. Often alone and without the support of family and loved ones, these people are in vulnerable situations and in desperate need of help. Who are they?
They are homeless young adults, ages 18-24. No longer eligible for the foster system or facing abusive situations at home, these homeless youth are left to look after themselves with few resources at their disposal. They quickly discover that most adult homeless shelters are poor options for them because the shelters are simply not safe. Adult homeless shelters have many residents with chronic mental illness, and are not geared to help these young people with their unique struggles. Aggressive behavior and attacks are not uncommon experiences for youth at homeless shelters, so they often choose to sleep in a car or at a park while deciding their next move.
This issue is so difficult to recognize because many of the youth experiencing homelessness look and dress exactly like their peers who are well taken care of. One really needs to have an eye to see these youths, and thankfully, Jason Vallejo does.
Jason has extensive experience working with non-profit organizations in Dallas, going from volunteer to executive director of Dallas Hope Charities, where he had begun to implement a transitional living program for at-risk LGTBQ+ youth. At one point, he had resigned from his position, believing he was moving to Austin for his husband’s new job. When that job did not pan out, he found himself still in Dallas and without a job of his own. In the midst of the 2020 pandemic, while collaborating and assisting with Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and their youth committee and serving at Minnie’s Food Pantry, Jason perceived that there was still a gap in immediate services for homeless youth 18-24.
This gap stirred his heart, so when on a walk in a downtown Plano park, he came across a homeless youth trying to sleep in a field on a hot day, Jason approached him and asked what he was doing. The young man said he had spent the night at an adult shelter and was too scared to rest there, so they had come to the park in the middle of the day in order to find a little sleep.
That conversation and meeting with the young man sparked Jason into action. That same day, he began to email and reach out to people to form the organization that would become Elevate North Texas. Officially launching in the Fall of 2021, they served fifty-six youth the rest of that year and have begun to help even more this year.
There are three core programs at Elevate. The first is the hotel voucher program where they have partnered with hotels to provide thirty days for these youth to stay in a room. From day 1, case managers work with the youths to establish goals and a path to move forward. They ask what they have, what they need, what they believe is the best path forward. Thirty days go by quickly, and the case managers at ElevateNTX work with the youth to use this time wisely and establish a plan for the youth to build a life of their own.
The most unique and restorative program at Elevate is their reunification program. Elevate seeks to reunite youth and their families when possible, in order for them to avoid being in the homeless system. Jason has personally reached out to family members to talk them through the situation and provide permanent homes for these youth. Elevate has provided transportation when necessary to get these vulnerable youths to a family member, and ElevateNTX has dedicated itself to the holistic approach of rebuilding relationships and community, where they are desperately needed.
The last program of Elevate is their Host Home program. Elevate works with trusted families to house youths who are pre-screened. Elevate also has case managers working with the youth to provide counseling, case management, and life skills training. These families house youths for up to four months and provide a safe environment for them to pursue and build a stable life for themselves.
Jason Vallejo’s heart, passion, and perception have certainly filled a need in the DFW area, but he is looking for others to join him in the mission. Around 300 youths age out of foster care in North Texas every year, and about 50% of them will experience homelessness or be incarcerated within the first year of aging out of foster care. 40% of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ+, and the primary reason they find themselves without a roof over their heads is because of family rejection. In fact, 73% of the youth thus far that ElevateNTX has aided identify as LGBTQ+. Jason Vallejo and ElevateNTX have provided a safe place for them and for so many other youths who find themselves experiencing homelessness, and they need people passionate about this issue and their cause to join with them.
If Jason and his story stir your heart, please reach out to him at email@example.com or to learn more about Elevate North Texas, go to www.elevatentx.org.