Programs assisting homeless and foster youth in college move forward in Olympia

With Tuesday marking the deadline for bills to pass out of fiscal committees, two bills that provide education opportunities for students experiencing homelessness made it out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee in the nick of time. Yesterday afternoon, SSB 6262 and SSB 6274 received “do pass” recommendations and were sent to the Rules Committee.

SSB 6262 would create pilot programs at certain colleges and universities to better accommodate homeless students. These accommodations would include services like laundry, storage, showers, free or reduced priced meals, or short term housing or housing assistance.

During the bill’s public hearing in January, supporters spoke about the multitude of challenges that homeless students face in college that their peers do not. Charles Adkins, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Geoduck Student Union and the Evergreen State College, testified that homeless students face difficulties ranging from finding a place to shower, to affording professional and appropriate clothes, to being able to purchase technology like laptops or graphing calculators.

Adkins, who experienced homelessness while in high school, testified in support of this bill saying,

“[this bill] can provide a framework for assisting homeless youth and we can ensure that otherwise successful, gifted members of our society are not held back because of unforeseen and unfortunate life circumstances.”

The pilot programs would begin 90 days after session ends and would run through July 2023.

SSB 6274 also passed out of the Ways and Means Committee Tuesday afternoon. This bill would create the Passport to Careers program to assist former foster youth and students experiencing homelessness in pursuing career opportunities after high school.

In 2007, the legislature created the Passport to College Promise program, which provides college financial aid and outreach to former foster youth. In recognition of that program’s success, SSB 6274 would expand eligibility for the college program, and would establish a similar program to assist students with securing apprenticeship opportunities.

The Passport to Careers program would include two pathways — the Passport to College Promise and the Passport to Apprenticeship Opportunities programs. Both programs would begin outreach to foster and homeless youth 13 years and older to help them prepare, enroll, and complete post-secondary school career opportunities.

Juliette Schindler Kelly, of the College Success Foundation, described the intense need for these services for foster youth.

“Youth from foster care face the most difficult odds of earning a post secondary degree of any student sub group. Nationally, only 2-3 percent of students from foster care earn a post secondary credential,” said Schindler Kelly.

These financial opportunities and additional services would connect these students with resources to succeed, and in the case of apprenticeships, would provide eligible individuals with money to cover fees, work clothes, and occupational specific tools.

“This bill is now, across the board, looking at a passport program that will help students who have experienced homelessness or been in the foster care system get to a place where they can better themselves and the community around them,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Senator Kevin Ranker.

Both bills are now up against the February 14th deadline to pass off the Senate Floor if they are to continue moving forward.