Hudgins bill gives students experiencing homelessness some relief

OLYMPIA – On Wednesday, the Washington House of Representatives passed legislation (HB 1278) giving high school students heading to college who experience homelessness some relief, and hope for the future. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, would require colleges and universities offering on-campus housing to provide first-year College Bound Scholarship students without shelter access to room and board when space is available.

These are high school students who do not have stable places to sleep at night who manage to graduate. They get into college while not knowing where their next roof will be. Although they have a scholarship in hand, exorbitant housing costs and student loans create barriers that this legislation hopes to lower a bit.

“This was brought to my attention by the Tukwila School Board, because we have a number of students that are able to get into college, but are facing serious challenges around housing,” said Hudgins. “This bill is about fixing that problem so all students can succeed in college and beyond.”

Under federal law, school districts must report data on the number of students experiencing homelessness, since colleges and universities do not have this same mandate, there is little information about these students, or how many students this policy would benefit.

“Through scholarship programs like the State Need Grant and College Bound, Washington has done a great job with helping these students remove barriers to opportunity through education. We are seeing these kids leaving our school district taking on federal student loans in order to cover housing costs,” said Tukwila School Board Member Dave Larson. “Putting a debt load on a student experiencing homelessness does nothing to remove barriers in the long run.”

The University of Washington estimates annual housing and food expenses at $12,798 – more than the cost of tuition.

“I was without a roof over my head as a student, so I know firsthand what these kids are going through. I was able to get through my freshman year, but only because of the benefits my father received from his service as a combat veteran. I can’t imagine what I would have gone through without out that,” said Charles Adkins, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Geoduck Student Union at Evergreen State College. “We support our K – 12 students experiencing homelessness through a variety of means, but when they finally make it to college, we suddenly drop that support. We as a state are like the parents who drop their kids off at orientation day at college and never see them again. The positive impact this will have on these bright students is priceless.”

Established in 2007, the College Bound Scholarship program covers tuition costs for low-income students for up to four years. However, as Washington faces a statewide housing affordability crisis, there has been an uptick of college students with nowhere to go outside the walls of their classrooms. Additionally, food pantries have become commonplace on college campuses nationwide.

House Bill 1278 now goes to the Senate for further consideration.