Waco-area programs addressing youth homelessness got a considerable shot in the arm with the recent announcement of a $2.23 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant awarded to the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition.
The grant, one of two given in the state, is part of $75 million awarded in HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, which supports a variety of approaches aimed at providing housing of some sort to youth 25 and younger. The amount is nearly double the $43 million awarded last year and indicates the priority Secretary of Housing Ben Carson puts on solving homelessness, HUD Region VI spokesperson Patricia Campbell said.
“Homelessness is no way to start out in life for young people reaching adulthood,” Carson is quoted as saying in a press release announcing the grants. “Today we make another critical investment in the futures of our youth, sparing them a life on the streets or in our shelters and placing them on a path to self-sufficiency.”
The local coalition’s first grant request two years ago was denied, but the collaboration of groups addressing homelessness worked in favor of the coalition’s second, and successful, attempt.
“From the department’s point of view, the coalition certainly is to be congratulated on their grant. They were one of only 23 grants awarded,” Campbell said.
HOT Homeless Coalition members were still elated days after news of the grant. The sheer size of the award opens the door to possibly realizing programs that have so far only been dreamed about, said Shaun Lee, coalition chairman and program director for the Heart of Texas Region MHMR.
“Having funding of this magnitude has always been a dream of ours. It’s exciting to be able to put pen to paper on some of these ideas,” Lee said. “This is game-changing.”
He said coalition members would brainstorm and plan over the next few months and submit plans to HUD for review and approval.
The Cove is the leading organization in the HOT Homeless Coalition that specifically works with homeless youth, providing after-school services for homeless Waco Independent School District students at its Washington Avenue center. An estimated 1,000 Waco ISD students are considered homeless, including about 200 without parental support.
The district brings students to the center where they can do their laundry, have a hot meal and take a shower. The center also offers mental health care, tutoring and case management services.
The Cove likely will be the main beneficiary of the new grant funding, but other area groups also provide services of some sort to homeless young people and were part of the grant proposal, Lee said.
Cove Executive Director Kelly Atkinson said the money would allow the organization to expand, add more staffers and try new ideas.
“We really would like to start a Host Homes program where families with a spare room or extra space could provide food and shelter for someone for a semester or a year at a time,” Atkinson said. “These are dreams.”
The Cove also has wanted to help youth who have just graduated from school through mentor programs or housing and employment support.
“That transition into independence and adulthood can be harder than the time at school,” she said.
The Cove has an annual budget of about $350,000 and had been looking at having to make up $52,000 in city funding that ended this year.
Lee said the two-year grant is intended to allow some experimentation with strategies for achieving the recipients’ goals. Successful programs could then be added to the coalition’s annual funding request to HUD, he said.
Grant conditions require the input of homeless young people in shaping the programs, and Atkinson said The Cove has a youth advisory board that includes members between 16 and 24 years old who either are homeless or have been in the past.
More than 50 sculptures of animals and people populate both floors of the Waco-McLennan County Central Library through November in an exhibit provided by Sculptureworks Inc. The Hurst organization works to promote art in public places such as libraries and community gardens. The pieces shown, primarily bronzes, often feature information on their creating artists with some up for sale. TOP: “Prairie Soldier” by Hollis Williford on display. ABOVE RIGHT: “Golden Morning” A.K.A. “Bob” by Paul Oestreicher stands on display near the main desk. ABOVE LEFT: “Sunday Comics” by Lori Kiplinger Pandy is also near the main desk.
Staff photos — Rod Aydelotte
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that Taliban “overreached” with a car bomb attack in Kabul that killed an American soldier, leading President Donald Trump to call off closely held Afghanistan peace talks planned for Camp David.
Pompeo said the Trump administration has recalled envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been negotiating with Taliban leaders for months in Qatar, and it will be up to the insurgent group whether talks will resume.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis said that when it comes to trying to negotiate an Afghanistan peace deal with the Taliban, the key question is whether they can be trusted.
Mattis cited past U.S. nuclear talks with the Russians, when the American side talked about “trust but verify.”
He told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that “I think you want to verify, then trust” in dealing with the Taliban.
Mattis said the U.S. since the Bush administration, has “demanded that they break with al-Qaida” but “they’ve refused to do so.” He also said “we should never forget” that they were behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
Critics denounced Trump’s plan to hold the Camp David meeting just days before the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and they said Trump was giving legitimacy to extremists who are responsible for the deaths of more than 2,400 U.S. service members in America’s longest war.
Pompeo said Trump wanted to look the Taliban leaders “in the eye” while Khalilzad worked to finalize an agreement that would allow the U.S. to start withdrawing troops. Pompeo defended Trump’s planned talks, saying the presidential retreat in Maryland was an “appropriate place,” given that it had been the venue for Mideast peace negotiations and other diplomatic meetings.
Trump tweeted Saturday night that he canceled negotiations with the Taliban in the wake of Thursday’s car bombing that killed an American soldier, a Romanian service member and 10 civilians in a busy diplomatic area near the U.S. Embassy in the Afghan capital. The bombing was one of many attacks by the Taliban in recent days. Sgt. 1st Class Elis A. Barreto Ortiz, 34, was the fourth U.S. service member killed in the past two weeks in Afghanistan.
“They tried to use terror to improve their negotiating position,” said Pompeo, who appeared on five Sunday TV talk shows. “The Taliban overreached.”
Pompeo said the agreement in principle that had been negotiated with the Taliban included their commitment to break with al-Qaida. The Taliban harbored al-Qaida before that group conducted the 9/11 attacks against the United States.
“And then the Taliban failed to live up to a series of commitments that they had made, and when that happened President Trump said, ‘I’m not going to take that deal. I’m not going to work with someone that can’t deliver on their commitments,’” Pompeo said.
The Afghan government says it doesn’t believe talks between the United States and Taliban will continue “at this stage.” Taliban said Americans would be the ones who suffer from Trump’s cancellation of the talks.
Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi confirmed that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had wanted to go to Washington to speak with Trump about his concerns “but I am not able to go into the details of the particular trip.” The details of the U.S.-Taliban deal that had been shown to Ghani last week “were not convincing,” Sediqqi said. “Let’s see the future.”
The Taliban said canceling the talks damages “the credibility” of the U.S., but that they think the U.S. will return to the negotiations.
“Both sides were preparing for the announcement and signing of the agreement,” the insurgent group said in a statement, saying they had been invited to the United States in late August but wanted to wait until the deal was ready to be signed. Now, “we will continue the ongoing jihad (against foreign occupation) and we firmly believe in the ultimate victory.”
Pompeo said he hopes that’s not the case and that the Taliban will recommit to the issues being negotiated.
“Cooler heads, I hope, will prevail,” he said. “It’s up to the Taliban.”
Criticism of the Camp David outreach came from even Trump supporters.
“Camp David is where America’s leaders met to plan our response after al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said in a tweet. “No member of the Taliban should set foot there. Ever.”
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a veteran, also voiced dismay: “Never should leaders of a terrorist organization that hasn’t renounced 9/11 and continues in evil be allowed in our great country. NEVER. Full stop,” he said.
The Afghan government, sidelined from the negotiations, said it has “always said that a real peace will come when the Taliban stop killing Afghans and implement a cease-fire and start direct negotiations with the Afghan government” on the country’s future — talks that were meant to quickly follow a U.S.-Taliban deal.
The Taliban’s new statement said those talks had been meant to start on Sept. 23, five days before Afghanistan’s presidential election.
Pompeo acknowledged that the attack was not the first since the talks began and said the U.S. has been attacking the Taliban too. Pompeo said more than 1,000 Taliban have been killed in battle during the past 10 days alone, but he didn’t elaborate so it was unclear whether they were killed by American airstrikes or by the Afghan security forces, which have been on the front lines since the U.S. ended its combat mission in 2014. The American forces now are training, advising and assisting the Afghan fighters.
Trump’s move puzzled observers, who pointed out that both the Taliban and U.S. and Afghan forces have increased fighting in recent months to strengthen their position in the talks. Civilians have suffered more than anyone in what was the world’s deadliest war in 2018.
Canceling the talks also goes against Trump’s pledge to withdraw the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and end U.S. involvement in a conflict.
Khalilzad said less than a week ago that a deal had been reached “in principle” with the group and that it only needed Trump’s approval. The president, however, came under increased pressure from the Afghan government and some U.S. lawmakers who mistrust the Taliban and think it’s too early to withdraw American forces.
“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” Trump tweeted.
“They were coming to the United States tonight. Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations,” he wrote.
“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump tweeted. “If they cannot agree to a cease-fire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don’t have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway. How many more decades are they willing to fight?”
Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Matthew Lee and Robert Burns contributed to this report.
ATLANTA — At a routine ultrasound when she was five months pregnant, Hevan Lunsford began to panic when the technician took longer than normal, then told her she would need to see a specialist.
Lunsford, a nurse in Alabama, knew it was serious and begged for an appointment the next day.
That’s when the doctor gave her and her husband the heart-wrenching news: The baby boy they decided to name Sebastian was severely underdeveloped and had only half a heart. If he survived, he would need care to ease his pain and several surgeries. He may not live long.
Lunsford, devastated, asked the doctor about ending the pregnancy.
“I felt the only way to guarantee that he would not have any suffering was to go through with the abortion,” she said of that painful decision nearly three years ago.
But the doctor said Alabama law prohibits abortions after five months. He handed Lunsford a piece of paper with information for a clinic in Atlanta, a roughly 180-mile drive east.
Lunsford is one of thousands of women in the U.S. who have crossed state lines for an abortion in recent years as states have passed ever stricter laws and as the number of clinics has declined.
Although abortion opponents say the laws are intended to reduce abortions and not send people to other states, at least 276,000 women terminated their pregnancies outside their home state between 2012 and 2017, according to an Associated Press analysis of data collected from state reports and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In New Mexico, the number of women from out of state who had abortions more than doubled in that period, while Missouri women represented nearly half the abortions performed in neighboring Kansas.
“The procedure itself was probably the least traumatic part of it,” Lunsford said. “If it would have been at my hospital, there would have been a feeling like what I was doing was OK and a reasonable choice.”
While abortions across the U.S. are down, the share of women who had abortions out of state rose slightly, by half a percentage point, and certain states had notable increases over the six-year period, according to AP’s analysis.
In pockets of the Midwest, South and Mountain West, the number of women terminating a pregnancy in another state rose considerably, particularly where a lack of clinics means the closest provider is in another state or where less restrictive policies in a neighboring state make it easier and quicker to terminate a pregnancy there.
“In many places, the right to abortion exists on paper, but the ability to access it is almost impossible,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, which operates seven abortion clinics in Maryland, Indiana, Texas, Virginia and Minnesota. “We see people’s access to care depend on their ZIP code.”
Nationwide, women who traveled from another state received at least 44,860 abortions in 2017, the most recent year available, according to the AP analysis of data from 41 states.
That’s about 10% of all reported procedures that year, but counts from nine states, including highly populated California and Florida, and the District Columbia were not included either because they were not collected or reported across the full six years.
Thirteen states saw a rise in the number of out-of-state women having abortions between 2012 and 2017.
New Mexico’s share of abortions performed on women from out of state more than doubled from 11% to roughly 25%. One likely reason is that a clinic in Albuquerque is one of only a few independent facilities in the country that perform abortions close to the third trimester without conditions.
Georgia’s share of abortions involving out-of-state women rose from 11.5% to 15%, while North Carolina saw its share increase from 16.6% to 18.5%. North Carolina had one of the highest shares of out-of-state abortions in 2017. While both states have passed restrictive laws, experts and advocates say they are slightly more accessible than some of their surrounding states.
In Illinois, the percentage of abortions performed on non-residents more than doubled to 16.5% of all reported state abortions in 2017. That is being driven in large part by women from Missouri, one of six states with only a single abortion provider.
Even that provider, in St. Louis, has been under threat of closing after the state health department refused to renew its license.
Missouri lawmakers also passed a law this year that would ban almost all abortions past eight weeks of a pregnancy, but it faces a legal challenge.
About 10 miles from St. Louis, across the Mississippi River, is the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois, which has seen a 30% increase in patients this year and has added two doctors, deputy director Alison Dreith said.
About 55 percent of its patients come from Missouri, and it also sees women from Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. All those states have mandatory waiting periods to receive an abortion, a requirement Illinois does not have.
Dreith called it a scary time for women in states with highly restrictive laws and few clinics.
“The landscape that we’re seeing today did not happen overnight, and it was not by accident,” she said.
And Illinois isn’t the only place Missouri women are heading for abortions.
In 2017, Missouri women received 47% of all abortions performed in Kansas. That is in large part because the only access to the procedure throughout western Missouri, particularly the greater Kansas City area, is across the state line in Overland Park, Kansas.
Between 2011 and May 31 of this year, 33 states passed 480 laws restricting abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.
In 2019 alone, lawmakers approved 58 restrictions primarily in the Midwest, Plains and South — almost half of which would ban all, most or some abortions, the group said.
The most high-profile laws, which face legal challenges that could eventually test the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — as early as six weeks.
Advocates say that if the Supreme Court upholds the latest restrictions, it will become more common for women to seek an abortion in another state.
“The intent of these lawmakers is to completely outlaw abortion and force people not to have abortions. But in reality, it pushes people farther and wider to access the care they want and need,” said Quita Tinsley, deputy director of Access Reproductive Care Southeast.
ARC Southeast is part of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a collective of 70 abortion support groups for women in six Southeast states. Some provide money to women to pay for abortions, while others also help with transportation, lodging and child care.
A third of women calling the group’s hotline for help end up traveling out of state for abortions, Tinsley said. Many choose Georgia because it’s convenient to get to and considered slightly less restrictive than some other states in the South.
In Georgia, which has a mandatory waiting period, a woman is not required to come to a clinic twice, like they are in Tennessee. But if Georgia’s new fetal heartbeat law survives a court challenge, it would have one of the earliest state-imposed abortion bans.
That would force many women to go even farther from where they live to terminate their pregnancies.
Of all states, New Mexico has seen the biggest increase in the number of women coming from elsewhere for an abortion — a 158% jump between 2012 and 2017, according to AP’s analysis.
The New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice helps an average of 100 women a year but is on track to assist 200 this year. Some of its 55 volunteers open their homes to women coming from out of state.
Executive director Joan Lamunyon Sanford said her group is doing what faith communities have always done: “Care for the stranger and welcome the traveler.”
Lamunyon Sanford said the need is growing as barriers increase and women are unable to access care where they live.
“They have to figure out so many details and figuring out how they are going to get the funding for everything,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just too much. And then they become parents.”
The coalition helped Beth Vial, who didn’t learn she was pregnant until she was six months along after chronic medical conditions masked her symptoms.
As a 22-year-old college student living in Portland, Oregon, Vial was beyond the point when nearly every abortion clinic in the country would perform the procedure.
Vial’s only option for an abortion was New Mexico, where a volunteer with the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice drove her to and from the clinic in Albuquerque and brought her meals.
The support she received inspired her to join the board of Northwest Access Abortion Fund, which helps women in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
“To have people I didn’t even know support me in ways that I didn’t even really know I needed at the time was unlike anything I have ever experienced,” said Vial, now 24. “It has encouraged me to give back to my community so other people don’t have to experience that alone.”
Abortion opponents say the intent of laws limiting the procedure is not to push women to another state but to build more time for them to consider their options and reduce the overall number of abortions.
“I have been insistent in telling my pro-life colleagues that’s all well and good if the last abortion clinic shuts down, but it’s no victory if women end up driving 10 minutes across the river to Granite City, Illinois, or to Fairview Heights,” said Sam Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri and a longtime anti-abortion lobbyist.
Anti-abortion activists also hope a broader cultural shift eventually makes these issues disappear.
“We are seeing this trend toward life and a realization of what science tells us about when life begins,” said Cole Muzio, executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia who advocated successfully for new abortion limits there. “Just because something is legal does not mean that it is good.”
Before the recent wave of legislation focused on limiting when an abortion can be performed, opponents largely worked to regulate clinics. Critics say those regulations contributed to more clinics closing in recent years, reducing access to abortion in parts of the country and pushing women farther for care.
Texas lost more than half its clinics after lawmakers in 2013 required them to have facilities equal to a surgical center and mandated doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Even though the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the law in 2016, most clinics have not reopened.
Candice Russell was among those who felt the impact. When she sought an abortion in Dallas in 2014, she was told she would have to wait more than two weeks because of an influx of patients from other parts of Texas where clinics had closed.
She feared she would not be able to miss work for back-to-back appointments, required under Texas’ mandatory waiting period, so she told the bar where she worked that a relative died and took out a payday loan to buy an airplane ticket to California. She had the procedure the next day.
“Even though I had to take on that horrendous loan and entered a debt spiral that lasted until about two years ago, I am really, really lucky,” said Russell, now 36 and working as deputy director of the Yellowhammer Fund, which helps women in Alabama seeking abortions. “There are a lot of people who just can’t do that. They can’t get on a plane and fly 1,500 miles for an abortion.”
Nationwide, 168 independent abortion clinics have closed since 2012, and just a handful opened over that time, according to the Abortion Care Network, a clinic advocacy group.
Some resulted from providers retiring and an overall decline in unplanned pregnancies, but advocates say many shut down because of restrictive laws.
“It’s not about safety of patients,” said Nikki Madsen, executive director of the Abortion Care Network. “It’s about closing clinics.”
For Lunsford, it took two years before she could begin managing the grief of losing her son, compounded by the hurdles she faced to carry out that painful decision — the drive to Atlanta, staying in a hotel and going to a clinic with doctors she didn’t know.
Lunsford, now 31, said she thinks about how she couldn’t hold her baby, an intimate goodbye that might have been possible if she had the abortion at a hospital. Before she left Atlanta, she asked the clinic’s staff to use the inkpad and paper she brought so she could keep her son’s footprints and handprints.
“Most of the laws I navigated, there was no reason for them,” she said. “None of them prevented my abortion. It just made it where I had to travel out of state.”