Bills percolating to help homeless students in state schools

Fledgling efforts are underway in Olympia to address the challenges faced by the state's more than 30,000 homeless students.
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Veteran youth advocate Jim Theofelis chairs the Washington Coalition for Youth Advocacy, which is developing a new homeless student bill.

Fledgling efforts are underway in Olympia to address the challenges faced by the state's more than 30,000 homeless students.

A bill is in the works to put a state official in charge of tackling the problems of homeless students in Washington's schools.

The Washington House's Community Development, Housing & Tribal Affairs Committee was briefed Thursday about the struggles of the state's homeless students and about two fledgling 2015 legislative efforts to address them.

"Homeless" students fall into several different categories in Washington, and the population fluctuates. That means apples-to-oranges comparisons exist among the different agencies conducting counts. Estimates of Washington's homeless student population range from roughly 30,000 to roughly 42,000. One state figure, from the 2012-2013 school year, was 30,609. That included 1,254 students who had no shelter at all, 8,202 who reported some kind of temporary housing and 21,153 who were living with friends or non-parent family members on a temporary basis.

One statewide spot count found 1,872 homeless students in Seattle's schools, 1,220 in the Spokane public school system, 508 in Wenatchee and 557 in Vancouver. These homeless students are more likely to drop out of school, repeat grades or suffer stress disorders than other pupils, according to Tedd Kelleher, managing director of the housing assistance unit for the Washington Department of Commerce.

The Washington Coalition for Youth Advocacy is the point organization for developing a new homeless student bill. The measure does not have a legislative sponsor yet, but one is expected soon, said Jim Theofelis, executive director of Seattle's Mockingbird Society and the Coalition's chair. Gov. Jay Inslee supports the bill's development.

The bill is expected to create an Office of Homeless Youth Programs within the state's Department of Commerce. Its first missions will include collecting information on homeless students and beginning to set up regional efforts to take care of them. Right now, the state does not have one official or one agency that oversees homeless student matters.

Meanwhile, Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, introduced another bill on Tuesday that would require a school district to provide a liaison for homeless students if there are at least 50 homeless students attending schools in that district.

The next steps will be committee hearings on both proposals.

Crosscut's coverage of homeless youth issues is supported in part by the Raikes Foundation of Seattle.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8