Local organization helps homeless youth with safe space

Kelly Atkinson, executive director of The Cove, discussed the problem of homeless youth in America at a Round Table event in Cashion on Monday afternoon. Liesje Powers | Multimedia Editor

By Harry Rowe | Staff Writer

Kelly Atkinson, executive director of The Cove, talked about the problem of homeless youth in America and how The Cove is working locally to give them a safe place after school where they can be themselves at the Paul L. Foster Success Center Monday afternoon.

The event was part of the Baylor Round Table, which is composed of women from Baylor faculty and staff, alumni, spouses of professors and other women from the Baylor community. The Cove is a place teenagers where without a home or guardians can stay from 4:30 to 8:00 p.m., and it seeks to provide a shelter to teenagers who struggle to find a place to rest. It is a home style place and can fit around 50 people total capacity.

Being without a home as a youth can leave a teenager vulnerable to many different things, according to the National Health Care for the Homeless. A 2014 study of 66 homeless youth age 18-24 revealed that the prevalence of having at least one psychiatric disorder may be up to four times the national prevalence in youth of the same age group.

“The Cove is a safe place, and we do find that, especially for those who are unaccompanied, there’s just so much greater risk for depression, for suicide attempts, for being trafficked — because if you think about it, just the protections of home and family aren’t there,” Atkinson said.

Although most would call them homeless youth, Atkinson said the Cove says they serve youth experiencing homelessness instead of are homeless.

“What they would say is, ‘Yeah my housing is less stable than I’d like it to be,’ but they don’t even identify with that term “homeless.” Atkinson said. “When they don’t identify as ‘I’m a homeless young person,’ there’s a lot of strength and ability and capability there for us to work with and say, ‘Yeah, this is something that’s been part of your high school experience, but it doesn’t have to define your future.’”

Atkinson invited the Round Table to come visit the Cove to see for themselves the environment they are trying to create. Atkinson told the women that although some of these kids are what people would consider “tough” on the street, they really let their guard down when they’re in a safe environment. These teenagers have been on the move for much of their life and don’t get much opportunity to rest, according to Atkinson.

Sara Perry, assistant professor of management for Baylor, helped set up the event. The group uses its membership fees and other fundraiser events to give one scholarship per year of $9,000 to Baylor women.

“This year the theme is women inspiring women, so every month we have a theme that has something to do with that or a speaker that has to do with that,“ Perry said. “We thought we’d invite Kelly to come speak, and usually the women in Baylor Round Table want to know how to get involved in different service around and be involved in Waco, so an event like this usually goes over very well.”

Atkinson said 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth were abused physically, and two-thirds report at least one parent abusing drugs or alcohol. Additionally, twenty to 40 percent were thrown out due to their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Cove had 87.5 percent of its graduates in 2017 accepted to college, found gainful employment and/or applied for FAFSA through the Cove.

The Cove continues to make goals for the coming year and is looking to help the homeless on a local level.