Students make their way after school at Edmonds-Woodway High School on March 12, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Students make their way after school at Edmonds-Woodway High School on March 12, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

WA boost in student homelessness funding reaches more districts

Edmonds schools are using money to provide support specifically for its homeless seniors living without a parent or guardian.

By Greg Kim, The Seattle Times

Washington school districts and nonprofits are creating programs or expanding existing ones to help homeless students this year after state lawmakers doubled funding for that purpose.

The Homeless Student Stability Program grew by $4.6 million to total $9 million — an unprecedented increase for a 7-year-old program whose funding has generally hovered around $4 million. State lawmakers said they recognized both the program’s effectiveness and the need for it to reach more students after a series by Project Homeless that showed where homeless students were being left behind and ways that schools could support them.

The state has identified almost 40,000 homeless students, almost surely an underestimate. Their graduation rates are 20% lower on average and they face among the highest rates of suspension and expulsion, among other obstacles that contribute to making them more likely to be homeless as adults.

North Thurston Public Schools showed an effective use of state and federal money. It hired “student navigators,” staff who provide one-on-one support for homeless high school students, including finding housing and monitoring their grades. Through this program, North Thurston increased the graduation rate of its homeless students by almost 20% within a few years.

The 17 districts already receiving funding got a slight bump this year, which North Thurston put toward hiring a student navigator for its middle school students. Leslie VanLeishout, director of student support, said this would allow homeless students to be identified and supported earlier.

In addition, the one-time funding boost allowed the program to expand to more than 30 additional school districts.

The Shelton School District is hiring tutors at local homeless shelters to provide extra support for students living there, while the Edmonds School District is using that money to provide housing and education support specifically for its homeless seniors who are living without a parent or guardian.

About half of the increased state funding went to nonprofits serving homeless students, such as Neighborhood House in King County, which received nearly $200,000. It’s using that to help homeless students and their families in Tukwila, where an immigration crisis has brought hundreds of asylum-seekers from Angola, Congo and Venezuela. Originally landing at a church that opened its doors as shelter, most families are temporarily being put up in hotels, but it’s not clear what the long-term solutions for them are.

Brianna Dwyer-O’Connor, director of housing and economic opportunity at Neighborhood House, said the money will go toward permanent housing for a few families, legal support for asylum-seekers and basic supplies like clothes and blankets.

Said Dwyer-O’Connor: “$200,000 isn’t actually going to go too far unfortunately. A ton more support will be needed. But we are hoping that we can provide some support to some of the families.”

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