State Legislature Takes Big Step Toward Supporting Washington’s Student Homeless Population

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Yesterday, the Washington State Legislature officially passed HB-1682, the Homeless Student Stability and Opportunity Gap Act. HB-1682 now heads to Governor Jay Inslee to be signed into law. HB-1682 will make Washington the first state in the nation to implement a new and innovative grant program to promote the creation of state-level school-housing partnerships. Columbia Legal Services has worked with several key legislators for over three years to design a cost-effective student homelessness initiative that led to the supportive housing innovations in HB-1682.

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"School is the one place that is likely to catch homeless children and youth early and help prevent chronic homelessness," said Rep. Jake Fey (D-Tacoma), lead sponsor of the bill in the House. "This bill is inspired by the McCarver Elementary School program in Tacoma. When the program works, a housing dollar can be considered an education dollar."

"After three years of effort, passing the bill with strong bipartisan support is a phenomenal success," said Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle), who sponsored the Senate effort on behalf of homeless students for the past several years. "It is now critical to fund HB-1682 in the supplemental budget. These kids deserve the supports that are lacking in many schools so that they can avoid becoming just another negative statistic in our opportunity gap."

One essential feature of student homelessness initiative is that it would provide access to routine healthcare for unaccompanied students experiencing homelessness who can now seek routine healthcare services through critical school personnel. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) reported that 35,511 students were homeless in the 2014-15 school year—a 9.1 % increase from last year. HB-1682 promises much needed aid for these students, including housing assistance, access to healthcare, and in-school supports such as tutoring through homeless student liaisons.

Key features of HB-1682 include:

·         State-Level School-Housing Partnerships
HB-1682 will provide state dollars to the Department of Commerce to administer a grant program that links homeless students and their families with stable housing in the student's own school district. Housing assistance may include: rental assistance, transportation assistance, emergency shelter, and housing stability case management.

·         State-Level Investment in Students Experiencing Homelessness
HB-1682 will provide state dollars to OSPI that will match existing federal dollars used to implement the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act. This funding is used to increase the identification of students experiencing homelessness and the capacity of school districts to provide them support, including education liaisons.

·         Building Point of Contact
HB-1682 will require school districts that have identified over 10 unaccompanied students to establish a point of contact in each middle school and high school in the district to connect students to the school district homeless student liaison.

·         Access to Routine Healthcare Services
HB-1682 will make Washington the 29th state in the nation to allow unaccompanied students access to routine healthcare services. Specifically, school nurses, school counselors, and homeless student liaisons may authorize services when parents are not available.

“The intent section of this bill says it all – schools are places of academic as well as personal enrichment and should provide safety, stability, support, and relationships necessary to help students succeed,” says Katara Jordan, a staff attorney with the Children & Youth Project at Columbia Legal Services. “These resources are vital for tens of thousands of students in Washington without a permanent home who often struggle in school because they are worried about where their families are staying night after night. HB-1682 represents a bipartisan, community response to the homelessness crisis.”

The bill’s sponsors include Rep. Jake Fey, Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, Sen. David Frockt, and Sen. Steve Litzow. Additionally, Rep. Joan McBride, Rep. Michelle Calidier, Sen. Kevin Ranker, Sen. Joe Fain, and Sen. Annette Cleveland all helped ensure that access to routine healthcare was included in the bill.

A coalition of advocacy organizations all supported the bill and saw it across the finish line, including, but not limited to: Washington Low Income Housing Alliance; Tacoma Housing Authority; Auburn Youth Resources; Youth Women's Christian Association; Washington State Board of Education; Washington Education Association; Washington State School Directors' Association; League of Education Voters; United Ways of Pacific Northwest; Campion Advocacy Fund; Raikes Foundation; Building Changes; Ryan’s House for Youth; Washington Coalition for Homeless Youth Advocacy; Seattle/King County Housing Coalition; Rod’s House; Children’s Alliance; Faith Action Network; King County Housing Authority; Firesteel; and the students of Denny International Middle School.