There are more than 35,000 homeless K-12 students in Washington—a population with one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the state. Historically, barely half of these students graduate with their peers. Now, thanks to legislation passed by the Washington State Legislature and signed into law last week by Governor Inslee, homeless students are more likely to receive the support and stability they need to succeed in school and life.
Under the Homeless Student Stability and Opportunity Gap Act (HSSA), Washington becomes the first state in the country to fund school-housing partnerships to keep kids near their schools of origin. In doing so, HSSA tripled the public dollars specifically focused on homeless students and doubled publicly-funded in-school supports. For homeless students in Washington, the future just got brighter.
As the Raikes Foundation explores how to help stem the tide of youth homelessness, it’s increasingly clear that schools represent a pivotal front line for prevention and early intervention. Bold moves like this by our state government show why Washington has quickly assumed a significant leadership role in our nation on youth homelessness. Even in a challenging political environment, the needs of our state’s vulnerable youth transcended partisanship, galvanized advocates and earned unprecedented attention by the Seattle Times.
Thanks in part to leadership by the new Office of Homeless Youth, support for homeless students was one of many significant victories this legislative session. Much-needed shelter capacity was added across the state, thousands of homeless youth gained access to primary health care, and critical legislation was passed to support host homes—an innovative new housing model for youth. All told, the state’s budget includes nearly $7 million in new funding related to youth homelessness prevention, crisis response and education. I have no doubt that this investment will pay dividends, allowing our youth the opportunity to develop into our state’s future leaders.
Everyone involved in this progress should feel proud, but we must also build on this momentum with a sense of urgency and purpose. New models supported in legislation must be thoughtfully piloted and measured against outcomes. Likewise, HSSA calls for student homelessness data disaggregated by race, which must be carefully considered to understand how we can maximize our collective efforts to close the opportunity gap. Public and private partners must continue to work in concert to capitalize on these opportunities, and front line staff at schools, shelters and service providers must be properly supported.
So, to everyone involved in making this legislative session a success for homeless students and youth, thank you! I’m more excited than ever about what the road ahead holds on our journey to make homelessness a rare, brief, and one-time occurrence for youth in our state.