wa state capitol

Washington state Capitol building.

OLYMPIA - Homeless students at community and technical colleges across the state will get the help they need 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.

“This results in people not being able to graduate or go onto a career. It hurts our students, our institutions and our local communities,” said Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, during a House College and Workforce Development Committee hearing.

She said the proposal would help many homeless and former foster care students for years to come, along with the many businesses that need employees.

The same 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.

A pilot program to test the program’s 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 saw a 76 percent retention rate for students in its program, which gives students a fully furnished apartment.

Austin Herrera, a student at South Puget Sound Community College and a former Marine who is now disabled, 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.

The House College and Workforce Development Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 13, to discuss the bill further.

The Washington State Journal is a non-profit news website operated by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Its reporters are students at the University of Washington. More information is at wastatejournal.org.

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