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WA bill brings hope for homeless college students

In Washington state, homelessness has become an epidemic. For homeless college students, having to navigate educational institutions brings additional intersecting challenges. According to a 2018 report released by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, “Of 43,000 students surveyed at dozens of two and four-year colleges and universities in 20 states across the U.S., 36% had reported experiencing a form of housing insecurity. Within the past year, 9% reported being homeless.  Of those who were attending community college, 46% reported housing insecurity and 12% reported experiencing homelessness”. 

In response to this crisis, Washington Senator Emily Randall brought a vote to the floor of the Washington State House for bill SB5800. It passed, 30-18. This bill will attempt to support homeless students by providing much needed access to resources and services at colleges across the state. The bill went into effect in February, and will launch as a pilot program at several Washington colleges and technical schools. Services for students would include laundry and shower facilities, food banks, temporary housing and assistance, and case management. 

In addition, the bill would also fund and create a coordinator position. Responsibilities would include assistance towards program navigation to colleges and referrals to these services for eligible students. Issues such as the lack of accurate data on homelessness amongst college student populations in Washington state would be the focus of issues addressed. Participating colleges would be required to provide data showing the number of students assisted by the pilot program and those who.had been homeless while in high school in the form of a joint report at the conclusion of the program. Local news reports declared that “All public, four-year colleges, universities and community technical colleges are eligible for the program”.

Zach Hunter, Resource Specialist of Student Support services department, says that for the program to be successful in helping homeless students at Central, there needs to be consistent collaboration between service agencies. Hunter explains,  “What often happens is that there is no contract between organizations to work together to serve all the intersectional issues that our clients face. So, conflicts in eligibility and other related issues arise, complicating the student’s vulnerable situation even further. This results in the student falling further into the cycle of housing insecurity. 

Although SB5800 has passed and is expected to be implemented forthwith, there is no clear plan or timeline for the building and launch of the proposed facilities and services SB5800 is meant to provide. We will continue to follow and update this story as more information becomes available. .

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