One of the most sobering moments for the Trib editorial board in recent years was the realization that more than a thousand students in Waco Independent School District qualified as homeless, some “surfing” from one living room couch to the next courtesy of friends, relatives and acquaintances. They’re further confirmation of our area’s scourge of poverty. These are children or teenagers who share housing or live in motels, shelters, campgrounds or cars because of economic hardship or worse. Somehow many still attend school. Some even graduate.
Which is why we fervently hope that, in a bustling metropolitan stretch of nearly a quarter-million souls, where so many claim to be pro-life, The Cove will realize increased support in its mission to bolster local homeless students as the city of Waco ends its funding. As Trib staff writer Rhiannon Saegert reports, the city last year helped boost center operations through a $52,291 grant, constituting more than 20 percent of the nonprofit’s budget. Last fall the Magnolia Foundation under Chip and Joanna Gaines gave The Cove its largest single gift, further evidence of the couple’s keen insight into Waco’s future.
Based on our 2016 tour of the nonprofit in its startup days, The Cove clearly fills a niche. It offers a place for students to shower and do laundry; access to medical care; and critical sanctuary from 4 to 8 p.m. where homeless students can do homework and get tutoring in what surely qualifies as a respite from the emotional, mental and physical trauma of homelessness. In crisis situations, Cove staff has found places where students can sleep, though most homeless students reportedly have lodgings of some sort, however temporary. Students are referred to The Cove by Waco ISD officials.
A recent study on homeless youth by the University of Chicago found at least one in 10 young adults (ages 18 to 25) experienced homelessness during a 12-month study period — and that one in 30 teens (ages 13 to 17) experienced homelessness during this same time period. Most disturbing: Students who are homeless are likely to be homeless as adults — and students of color are more at risk. Covenant House reports 57 percent of homeless kids spend at least one day every month without food and that nearly 50 percent in shelters report “intense conflict or physical harm by a family member” as a contributing factor to their homelessness.
The Waco City Council last year smartly agreed to allocate funding to help support The Cove, though city officials insist that this was never intended as a permanent funding source. And with tighter state-set caps on city revenue in future budgets, city officials will be applying a stronger degree of austerity to their list of expenditures. While Cove executive director Kelly Atkinson exudes confidence about fundraising challenges ahead, we encourage friends and neighbors to consider this non-profit not only in terms of financial support but also volunteerism (tutors, mentors and meal providers are sought) and in-kind donations (their website offers a list of needs). An investment today can forestall a tragic development tomorrow, not only for vulnerable, overlooked young lives but the society in which we all have a stake.