Battling Homelessness in Waco

Image courtesy of KWBU

At the end of the 2015-2016 school year, Waco ISD reported that 1,600 students (out of the 15,000 total student population) struggled with homelessness. This number increased by 500 from the previous year. Though economic factors and families moving to Waco from out of town certainly caused a spike in the numbers, Waco ISD has recently begun training teachers on how to determine if a student needs help. Students are technically homeless if they are staying in a hotel or crashing with a friend.

Students can become homeless for many different reasons, though there is a link between homelessness and abusive home situations or parents addicted to alcohol or drugs. Each situation is different, but one thing that remains the same is the toll homelessness has on the student’s education and general well-being. Homeless youth are extremely vulnerable to depression, suicide, prostitution, and other forms of exploitation. These things often occur due to a lack of stability and previous exposure to abuse.

Nationally, less than 25% of homeless students will graduate from high school. When students do not have a consistent place to live, they often end up switching schools multiple times throughout the school year. Others fail out of school due to lack of resources and the added stress of their home life. Whatever the reason, when students do not graduate from high school, they decrease the likelihood that they will find future employment. A lack of education perpetuates the cycle of homelessness for these individuals.

To help combat this issue, Waco ISD began an initiative called Sanctuary House in collaboration with Waco Housing Authority & Affiliates, The City of Waco, Junior League of Waco, and The Salvation Army Waco. Sanctuary House is designed to provide short-term emergency housing to vulnerable Waco families. Families who stay in the Sanctuary House are there for thirty days during which the organization helps them find permanent housing.

However, there are other ways to help Waco’s homeless youth. Programs such as Baylor Buddies, which pair up college students with a Waco ISD student, provide an important mentor relationship to struggling high school and middle school students. This form of stability and accountability proves very helpful to those struggling with homelessness and other forms of material poverty. As Baylor students, we do not have the resources to house homeless families. However, we can sacrifice our time to foster relationships with struggling students.

Nikki Thompson is a sophomore majoring in professional writing and rhetoric.




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