Legislature passes bill to help homeless college students succeed

OLYMPIA – At just 15 years old, Charles Adkins of Everett found himself homeless. He finished high school with the support of a local nonprofit and ultimately received a full scholarship to Evergreen State College. Three months into his freshman year there, just before his first winter break, Adkins found out that the college was going to charge him $700 to stay in the dorms over the break. He didn’t have $700. At the last minute, a friend offered up a spare bedroom and Adkins avoided experiencing three more weeks of homelessness.

“This is fairly common,” says Adkins, who is now a student advocate for Evergreen State College. “We find that almost one third of our non-traditional students leave college after that first winter break, which is so discouraging. I wanted to make sure that future students didn’t have to make the same choice I almost did—to choose between having a home and finishing college – so I teamed up with other advocates and wrote this bill.”

“When we think about homeless youth, we think about really impoverished members of our community, and we think we already have a formula for how to assist them,” says Rep. Sharon Shewmake (D-42nd, Bellingham), who voted for the bill. “But that’s not the whole picture. These are kids who might have grown up with a mother who was their sole breadwinner until she was suddenly disabled in combat overseas. Or parents are incarcerated or pass away. In all of these cases, it’s up to the rest of us to step up and support the younger members of our community.”

Senate Bill 5800 will create a pilot project designating six public colleges across the state to work out how to efficiently establish wrap-around supports for homeless students. The six schools, which will include one four-year and two community and technical colleges on each side of the Cascades, will provide services that include laundry, reduced-price meals, short-term housing assistance, and case management. The project will also evaluate how to best integrate existing non-governmental resources with state resources.

SB 5800 cleared its final legislative hurdle on Monday by passing the Washington state House of Representatives. It had already passed the state Senate on March 6 and now sits on Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk, awaiting his signature.