Austin Street Center has a new executive director, and the leader of this downtown Dallas homeless shelter is a familiar face to Lake Highlanders – Daniel Roby.
Daniel, who graduated from Lake Highlands High School in 2000 and played Wildcat football, sang in Espree and performed in school musicals, is raising four children in LH with high school sweetheart Lesley (Stiles) Roby. The two began dating their junior year, says Daniel, “and when she became Highlandette Captain, it was clear that I was way out of my league and could never get that lucky again. So we followed each other to Baylor and got married the weekend after college graduation.”
Their children, Noah, Banner, Abigail and Chapel, attend White Rock Elementary.
Daniel says his journey to lead Austin Street has been “a bit unconventional.” After training as a missionary and receiving a pastoral license, he moved to Oregon to plant a church.
“It wasn’t long before I found myself surrounded by the homeless teenagers of downtown Portland,” says Daniel. “What started as a weekly bible study with runaways and street kids soon turned into 7 years of running homeless service and emergency shelter programs in that beautiful city. Portlandia is totally real life there, by the way,” he says, referring to the satirical TV show.
Three kids later, the Robys moved to Dallas to be closer to family and Daniel dabbled in the insurance business. He says he’s returned to his “life-long calling of providing hope to those experiencing the terrifying circumstance of homelessness.”
I asked him what his first goal will be.
“Building trusted relationships with all members of our community is the only way to create a sustainable impact with such a challenging issue. As a volunteer-run organization with over 100 churches and businesses serving meals every day, it is my job to get our homeless guests, volunteers, staff and other contributors to our mission all going in the same direction. My first few months will be focused upon identifying key stakeholders and casting a vision for our unique role in alleviating suffering and providing a way out of homelessness.”
But what does someone who grew up in a happy, healthy home with plenty to eat have to offer?
“Where do you think my love for clients comes from? All it takes to get addicted to this work is exposure. My parents [Linda and Frank Roby] helped me to see a good deal of poverty early in life, and I even served at Austin Street Center in its early years with a group from Highland Park United Methodist Church. I was absolutely hooked to the feeling of making a difference. Although I have never lived in real poverty, there have been times in my life when I felt powerless. I think tapping into that place has also helped me to identify – albeit in a small way – with what many of my homeless friends feel every day.”
Though he’s only been at the helm a couple of weeks, he already has big ideas.
“You should expect to see us step up our involvement in coordinating resources within the homeless service community,” says Daniel, “and providing additional case management to meet the unique needs of each person. There are as many causes to homelessness as there are people who experience it, so each pathway out needs to be uniquely tailored to that individual.
“Providing a safe place to sleep significantly reduces sexual violence by close to 75%m substantially improves mental and physical health, and relieves the tax burden on our city as we are funded through private contributions.
“Most people think of Austin Street Center as a clean and safe place that offers a meal and a bed to those without any other place to call home. But food and shelter is really just the means by which we offer something much more valuable. We offer the hope of a restored life.”
If you’d like to support Austin Street’s mission, you may donate items, such as coffee, blankets, or laundry detergent here, or you can donate money here. You can learn how to volunteer here, including organizing your group to host a clothing or food drive, serve a meal or perform at the shelter.