Supporting youth without homes and addressing encampments.

Friends and neighbors,

Addressing homelessness presents significant challenges. Our goal is for our neighbors to not only have stable housing but also the necessary support systems to thrive. However, we also recognize the importance of maintaining clean and safe neighborhoods and rights-of-way. Simply clearing encampments without addressing the root causes of homelessness is not a solution; it merely moves the issue elsewhere.

To effectively tackle this complex issue, we must confront housing affordability, meet mental and behavioral health needs, facilitate pathways to sustainable employment, and address a host of other underlying challenges.

Amid the ongoing challenges, it’s understandable that the progress we’ve achieved might not be immediately evident. However, I’m pleased to share a recent report from the state Office of Homeless Youth and A Way Home Washington, revealing a significant milestone: youth homelessness in WA has seen a significant decline of 40% over the past six years, plummeting from nearly 24,000 to just over 14,000.

This remarkable progress can be attributed in part to innovative strategies, with some actively implemented right here in Tacoma and Pierce County. I want to extend my sincere appreciation to the organizations mentioned in this report for their unwavering dedication and hard work. Your efforts are making a tangible difference in the lives of our youth and our community, and for that, I am truly grateful.

Supportive Legislation:

Over the years, I’ve been deeply engaged in this work, advocating for legislation to support homeless youth and young adults and advocating for budget allocations that fund programs specifically tailored to provide school and community support for unhoused youth.

My efforts began in 2014 with the introduction of House Bill 2610, aimed at identifying characteristics of the homeless youth population. Although this bill and subsequent ones, like House Bill 1928 did not pass, I found success in 2016 with the passage of House Bill 1682 (Homeless Students Stability Act). This legislation helped schools offer more guidance support, housing stability, and services for homeless students.

In 2019, I sponsored House Bill 1263, aiming to enhance support for students experiencing homelessness by mandating schools to establish points of contact for identifying and supporting homeless youth. Additionally, it sought improvements to two grant programs aiding students facing homelessness. The Senate companion bill, SB 5324, passed successfully.

Continuing this momentum, in 2023, I sponsored House Bill 1622, enhancing state grant programs administered by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Department of Commerce for children experiencing homelessness. This bill aligned program goals and established uniform reporting mechanisms to better serve this vulnerable population. House Bill 1622 also provided more funding flexibility for those delivering the necessary support to unhoused youth.

Advancements in Tacoma and Pierce County: Investments Made and Progress Achieved

Recognizing that many adults currently facing housing instability first experienced homelessness during their youth, prioritizing prevention is essential for addressing the systemic causes of homelessness and guiding impactful investments. Since taking office in 2013, I’ve sponsored and advocated for legislation that prioritizes preventive support and programming for unhoused youth and young adults as well as collaborated with fellow legislators to secure funding for our district.

I firmly believe that our budget reflects our community’s values. Through initiatives supported by both the general and capital budgets, I’ve successfully advocated for funding for vital services. This includes support for unhoused youth, resources for food banks and community centers, and specialized assistance for black, transgender, and non-binary youth to name a few. I want to particularly highlight the allocation of $5,500,000 since 2019 to the Tacoma Housing Authority Arlington Youth Campus, whose impactful efforts have been recognized in the report mentioned earlier.

The significant decrease in youth homelessness in Washington, our county, and our district would not have been possible without all of your efforts. Thank you for allowing our offices to support you in your commendable endeavors.

This biennium, my colleagues and I were able to successfully advocate for:

Operating Budget wins

  • $269,000 for the operating costs of the Hilltop Community Hub to provide housing goods.
  • $1.9 million to continue the operation of the guaranteed basic income program in Tacoma which helps provide some level of economic security for all our neighbors, including those experiencing homelessness.
  • $3 million to prevent the closure of 307 temporary and emergency shelter beds (initially funded by the City of Tacoma).
  • $1 million for a pilot program establishing a street medicine team. This team will assess and address the physical and behavioral health needs of people living homeless in encampments and on the streets who are experiencing substance use disorder.
  • $750,000 – Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to develop a comprehensive model toolkit for prevention, education, awareness, and policy strategies to tackle the opioid and fentanyl crisis on a local level.

Capital Budget wins

  • $5.05 million for Lincoln District Family Housing.
  • $1 million Shiloh Baptist Church New Life Housing.
  • $414,000 for Bethlehem Baptist Church’s Affordable Housing Development.
  • $515,000 for Greater Christ Temple Church’s and HumanGood Affordable Housing’s 66 units of new affordable senior housing in our Hilltop neighborhood.
  • $14 million for Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat Housing.

Addressing the encampments along our highways

It’s evident that as a state, we must prioritize efforts to reduce barriers for our neighbors experiencing homelessness, ensuring they have better access to vital resources while we tackle systemic issues. However, we also need to acknowledge that roadside encampments pose challenges. Our budgets reflect an understanding of this complex situation and strive to address the problems we value.

I recognize the hazards associated with roadside encampments—being both dangerous and unsanitary—demanding our immediate attention alongside our efforts to combat homelessness. That’s why the Transportation Budget dedicates extra funding for the Department of Transportation to mitigate safety and public health risks posed by homeless encampments on department-owned rights-of-way. Since 2019 the City of Tacoma has received $1 million per biennium to aid in highway encampment cleanup efforts, totaling $3 million in funding received to date. Additionally, a $2 million allocation has been designated to The City of Fife to support highway encampment cleanup.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to work alongside community organizations and stakeholders to develop meaningful solutions for the challenges faced by unhoused youth. After all, meaningful change doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Please reach out if you have any thoughts, questions, or concerns.

Thank you,

Rep. Fey signature

Rep. Jake Fey