OLYMPIA — Homeless students at community and technical colleges across the state would get assistance if House Bill 1601 becomes law.
If passed, the bill would provide homeless students and students who age out of the foster care system help with access to laundry storage, shower facilities, locker rooms, food banks, technology, reduced-price meals or meal plans, case management services and short-term housing/housing assistance.
Homelessness “results in people not being able to graduate or go onto a career. It hurts our students, our institutions and our local communities,” Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, lead sponsor, said during a hearing before the House College and Workforce Development Committee on Tuesday.
Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend — who represents the 24th District, which covers Clallam and Jefferson counties and part of Grays Harbor County — is among the sponsors of the bill.
The program would help many homeless and former foster care students for years to come as well as the many businesses that need employees, Leavitt said.
Such assistance is widely available at universities across the state, yet many community and technical colleges do not have the funding to keep pace with the growing need for services, she added.
A pilot program to test its effectiveness was implemented in 2019 and has seen success, according to Leavitt. Participating institutions have seen higher retention rates within their homeless and former foster care populations. South Puget Sound Community College, for example, saw a 76 percent retention rate for students in its program, which gives students fully furnished apartments.
Austin Herrera, a student at South Puget Sound Community College and a former marine who is now disabled, spoke with emotion as he recounted his experience with homelessness.
“I support this bill because it gives students like myself the ability to focus on school instead of having to choose between surviving and studying,” Herrera said.
This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.