Washington State explores new ways to assist homeless college students

Washington State explores new ways to assist homeless college students

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

Two proposed bills could give homeless college students free room and board, reduced-price meals and access to short-term housing during seasonal breaks.

According to a survey of 35 colleges and universities, 36 percent of university students didn’t have consistent access to either food or housing in the last year.

House Bill 1572 would establish a pilot program giving students access to laundry facilities, storage, showers, technology, reduced-price meals and meal plans, and housing assistance during the school year and seasonal holidays. It would apply both to homeless students and those who were in foster care at high school graduation.

Of 33 sponsors, Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, is the only Republican on the bill. He said the bill focuses on assisting “margins” of a student’s life, something he gained understanding of when he experienced homelessness during high school and college.

“I had instances when I would alter the way I would sit when I was talking to someone because I felt like my feet smelled. I don’t want students to have to focus on this,” Rep. Young said. “I hope to refocus my caucus on the fact that hey, this doesn’t necessarily have to include greater spending… but can be a lifesaver for a kid.”

House Bill 1278 would require public colleges to provide homeless first-year recipients of College-Bound Scholarship funds for low-income students a one-year waiver for on-campus housing.

Housing would be available on a space-available basis, and provided that housing is not already covered through other aid.

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, is the bill’s prime sponsor.

He acknowledged the proposed legislation has not yet addressed key issues like determining how many students would be served, whether the schools or state would pay for it, or what the implications are for colleges that don’t provide on-campus housing.

“People are facing adverse challenges, get into college, get a scholarship, but are unable to make that leap… because of their family situations,” Hudgins said.

University of Washington is currently surveying students to determine how many need this kind of support. UW was concerned about students with housing challenges and encouraged the Legislature to provide financial support for the students, according to a spokesperson.

Both bills use the McKinney-Vento Act’s definition of homelessness, which includes individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

Both HB 1572 and HB 1278 are scheduled for executive sessions in the House College and Workforce Development Committee at 8 a.m. Feb. 8.

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