Everett schools win grant for homeless youth

EVERETT — In a school district where roughly one in 20 students qualifies as homeless, a new state grant is seen as an important step toward stability.

Everett Public Schools is scheduled to receive nearly $200,000, enough to help an estimated 15 students at a time with housing, legal fees and other expenses.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill creating the Homeless Student Stability Program in June.

Everett will subcontract with the YWCA Seattle-King-Snohomish, which plans to hire and train a homeless housing navigator to work in the district’s schools.

Cynthia Jones, the district’s director of categorical programs, said that the navigator likely will roam among several locations during the week. They will be looking at schools who have the highest numbers of homeless families.

“Last year we had over 1,100 students who qualified as homeless,” Jones said.

The district has about 20,000 students.

All the recipients have to meet the state’s definition of a very low-income household, which means an unaccompanied youth or family whose income is less than 50 percent of the median income for the county where the child lives. The legislation creating the grant also requires school districts to have identified at least 50 students whose families meet the state’s definition of homeless.

The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction calculated that in the 2014-2015 school year statewide there were 35,511 students who qualified as homeless.

Everett was one of four grant winners statewide. The others were Bellingham Public Schools and, in Clark and Pacific counties, two groups of three school districts each that applied for the grant together.

Mary Anne Dillon, the YWCA’s senior regional director for Snohomish County, said that this is the first time the nonprofit would put one of its housing navigators in a school district.

The staff in the school district already know who the likely recipients of the aid are, she said.

“It would be a matter of connecting those homeless students and families to us,” Dillon said.

Funding breaks down into four categories, the largest of which is $100,000 for direct rental assistance. The budget also includes $43,500 that covers the salary and benefits of the navigator for the school year, $15,250 for administration, and $40,000 in flexible funding.

The flex fund is necessary because the way many grant awards are written puts strong restrictions on how the money is used.

“We were finding we needed an unrestricted pot of money to pay for things like, (for example), the mother needs to renew her license, or we needed to get copies of birth certificates or Social Security cards,” Dillon said.

Jones said that the flexibility also allows the district to help families who might not be homeless yet, but have been targeted for eviction or are in an otherwise precarious living situation.

The Legislature funded the grant only through June 2017, and Dillon said they hope there will be a reallocation of the funds for future school years.

“We don’t want to create a system and a support network for families and then just end it in June,” she said.

Jones said that she believes the Legislature is interested in how the new grant program will work, and hopes Everett will be able to show a positive outcome at the end of the school year.

“I think we certainly have a need for this kind of services,” she said. “I also think we have a track record across the state of really trying to serve our homeless families.”

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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