On any given night, more than 32,000 young people in Washington have no place to call home. About 7,000 of those youth are unaccompanied and don’t have an adult or guardian to help keep them safe. Many cycle in and out of homelessness and struggle to find resources for shelter, food, clothing, and education.
The state House of Representatives took a step yesterday toward addressing that problem. The House approved Gov. Jay Inslee’s Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Act to provide appropriate and easily accessible services for homeless youth. The bill creates an Office of Youth Homelessness in the state Department of Commerce, responsible for keeping youth safe and housed. The office would work as part of an expanded public-private partnership with the Washington Youth and Families Fund to oversee investments in stable housing, education and employment opportunities, developing positive, permanent connections between homeless youth and adults, and addressing the emotional well-being of homeless young people. The bill also contains a strong focus on reuniting youth with their families whenever possible. Finally, the bill sets a goal that the state will not discharge children from state systems such as foster care and juvenile justice facilities to the streets.
“When we talk about children falling through the cracks, we’re talking about thousands of children in every community of our state who are struggling to fend for themselves, often without the help of any trusted adult,” Inslee said. “This bill will allow us to leverage our resources far more effectively and help these children with everything from housing and education to counseling and relationship-building. Representative Kagi and Senator O’Ban have been real leaders on this issue. Together, with leaders from both sides of the aisle, we can do something important on this issue, this year.”
“Children who live on the streets are at risk of dropping out of school, falling into a life of crime or becoming victims of human trafficking,” said Rep. Ruth Kagi (D-Forest Lake Park). “There are 38,000 homeless students in our schools. The current system has failed them. We must do better. The Homeless Youth Act allows us to better protect these children and prevent & reduce youth homelessness.
“We need to better understand and help homeless young people to reunite them with their families and provide critical services,” Senator Steve O’Ban (R-University Place) said. “We don’t want homeless youth to fall prey to human trafficking and drug pushers; they need our immediate help.”
First Lady Trudi Inslee also testified in support of the bill saying it’s time for a system that makes youth homelessness “rare, brief and one time.” The First Lady has been a vocal advocate for reducing homelessness and helping homeless youth.
The bill now goes to the state Senate for consideration. O’Ban is sponsor of the Senate companion bill which is also poised for a vote.