Political Science Senior Publishes Book on Teen Homelessness
UT Dallas political science senior Nancy Fairbank got an up-close look at teen homelessness while working on a high school journalism project.
Her resulting documentary, about a center for youths living on the streets in her hometown of Springfield, Missouri, turned into much more than an assignment. It was the first step in an ongoing effort to advocate for homeless teens.
Fairbank, a McDermott Scholar who served as Student Government vice president in 2014-15, tells the stories of the teens she interviewed in a new book, Throwaway Youth: Stories of Springfield’s Homeless Teens. Missouri State University’s Moon City Press published the book in March with support from community sponsors.
“One of the things that really drew me to write the book was the fact that I had no idea how significant a problem this was and how many homeless youth there were,” Fairbank said. “To realize there was this huge problem that no one was really addressing was very shocking.”
Proceeds from Throwaway Youth benefit the Kitchen Inc., a Springfield nonprofit that operates Rare Breed Youth Outreach Center, where Fairbank met the teens featured in the book.
Fairbank appeared at a reception and book signing that Missouri State hosted recently. The event also included readings from the book by the university’s theater students.
Fairbank said she hopes the book will help shatter stereotypes about homeless teens and raise awareness about this invisible problem. Homelessness among teens often goes unnoticed because many of them sleep at friends’ homes, in cars and other hidden places.
“I really wanted to help get out their life stories and their truths, and show people that they were homeless because of severe neglect and maltreatment,” Fairbank said. “Despite all the circumstances they’d been through, they were still wonderful people, smart people who were doing their best to get off the streets, get an education, get a job and help themselves out of that situation.”
Fairbank said she hopes that people will be inspired by the teens’ stories. “If we can help them get them back on their feet, they’re more than willing to take it from there,” she said.
Working on the documentary inspired Fairbank to form a volunteer group at her high school that organized a talent show fundraiser, art auction, pumpkin-carving event and other projects at Rare Breed.
“It really sparked a lifelong passion. I want to continue to address this issue, and UT Dallas has helped shape that path for me.”
After hearing about her work, Dr. Carol Cirulli Lanham, senior lecturer of sociology and assistant dean of undergraduate studies in the School of Economic, Political & Policy Sciences, contacted Fairbank to help with the development of an evidence-based drug awareness program for the Dallas Independent School District. The district reported that 3,400 students were in various stages of homelessness in 2012.
“Since she had personally interviewed these young people, she had invaluable insights,” Lanham said. “We ended up implementing several of her recommendations.”
While at UT Dallas, Fairbank has given a TEDxUTD talk about teen homelessness. She also created and led a public awareness campaign about the commercial sexual exploitation of children during an internship with a nonprofit in Nicaragua. In addition, she spent a semester working for the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., through the Bill Archer Fellowship Program for Undergraduates. Most recently, Fairbank was a 2016 Truman Scholar finalist. She is planning an independent study abroad this summer that deals with law, homelessness and poverty. After Fairbank graduates in May 2017, she plans to go to law school to start a new chapter in her advocacy for homeless teens. She aims to become an attorney who helps protect children and youths through law and policy.
Fairbank said that her high school project influenced her career goals.
“It really sparked a lifelong passion,” Fairbank said. “I want to continue to address this issue, and UT Dallas has helped shape that path for me.”
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].