The legislature adjourned last week after an unexpectedly long short session. With revenue projections down and the ongoing need to resolve funding issues related to the McCleary decision, housing and homelessness advocates had their work cut out for them this year. Overall, real progress was made this session on a number of fronts.
One thing is clear—lawmakers were able to reach a consensus that our state could be doing more to help struggling young people. Most of this success is a result of the Washington Coalition for Homeless Youth Advocacy’s (WACHYA) efforts. Led by Campion grantees the Mockingbird Society and YouthCare, WACHYA amplifies the advocacy voice of 40 youth-centered nonprofits from around the state. This year, they laid out a bold legislative agenda to build on the successful Homeless Youth Act passed last year. The Act was a critical piece of legislation to change how our state government responds to homeless youth and Governor Inslee and First Lady Trudy Inslee showed great leadership in the establishment of the Office of Homeless Youth.
This year, WACHYA mobilized advocates from around the state to support the next wave of important legislation to help homeless youth, such as the Homeless Student Stability and Opportunity Gap Act (HB1682). This bill builds on the successful model at McCarver Elementary, where school officials and housing agencies work together to meet family needs. This means better outcomes for students and access to services for families in crisis. These kinds of partnerships don’t always happen and this bill will help encourage more communities to work together to end child homelessness.
Additionally, the coalition worked to secure critical resources for homeless youth. Funding allocated in the supplemental budget nearly doubled the number of HOPE beds (temporary shelter beds for youth under 18) from 23 to 46, created 20 new shelter beds for youth 18-24, and included funding for critical outreach services, family reconciliation, and truancy reduction. This is all evidence that momentum is building to ensure all young people deserve a safe, stable place to sleep and access to education and other services that prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.
Thank you to Speaker Chopp and Rep. Ruth Kagi for your ongoing leadership for homeless youth issues. Congratulations to Rep. Jake Fey, Rep. Melanie Stambaugh and Sen. David Frockt for the successful passage of the Homeless Student Stability and Opportunity Gap Act!
Homelessness State of Emergency and Affordable Housing
Right before session began, Mayor Ed Murray of the City of Seattle and Executive Dow Constantine declared a Homelessness State of Emergency, along with other major cities on the west coast. This state of emergency highlighted the need for both our state and federal partners to step up and renew their commitment to funding homelessness and affordable housing in this country.
Many leaders in Olympia stepped up to this challenge and responded to this human emergency no differently than they would a flood or earthquake. Senator Sharon Nelson and the Senate Democrats proposed an influx of $186 million in funding from the state’s Rainy Day Account to increase homelessness services and affordable housing—a bold plan treating this like the crisis it is. Likewise, the House budget included an additional $37.5 million for homelessness and listed homelessness and housing as one of their top three priorities in the budget. The elevation of homelessness to the short list is reflective of the powerful advocacy work of all of the Campion grantees, particularly the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
Unfortunately, the final budget compromise did not include either of the strong proposals listed above. An additional $8 million was included in the supplemental budget for affordable housing, which is a great start. However, if we as a state plan to truly make a dent in housing the families of the 35,000 homeless kids in our school system, we need to do more. This includes finding more revenue for all homelessness and housing programs.
Thank you to Sen. Sharon Nelson and Rep. Hans Dunshee for pushing bold funding plans this session. This is a reflection of the growing sentiment that our state can no longer ignore the thousands of homeless men, women, and children who do not have a safe, affordable place to sleep.