Bill aims to help homeless and former foster care college students

Disabled student says some otherwise must decide between studying or surviving

By Juan Morfin

WNPA News Service

OLYMPIA — Homeless students at community and technical colleges across the state will get the help they need if HB 1601 becomes law.

If passed, the bill would provide help to homeless students and students who age out of the foster care system 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 or 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,” Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, said Jan. 11 during the House College and Workforce Development Committee hearing.

She added that this program will help many homeless and former foster care students for years to come as well as 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, Leavitt noted.

A pilot program to test the program’s effectiveness was implemented in 2019 and has seen success, according to Leavitt. Participating institutions have experienced higher retention rates within their homeless and former foster care populations. South Puget Sound Community College, for example, had a 76% 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, 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.

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