Stronger Families. Stronger Communities. Stronger Washington

Homeless Students Falling Through Cracks
Author: peterabbarno
February 17, 2020

In 2018, Senate Bill 6560, Ensuring that no youth is discharged from a public system of care into homelessness, passed unanimously (House and Senate) in a strong bipartisan commitment to reducing homelessness among our most vulnerable population.

According to a recent report from Komo News regarding young people living on the street, Seven out of 10 young people released from state-funded programs in 2015 came out of behavioral health- the rest from criminal justice and child welfare, according to a new state report. One year later, one-quarter of the youths were found to be in unstable housing and homeless.

Releasing young adults into an unstable environment puts them at significant risk for physical assault, sexual assault, robbery and sexual and commercial victimization, the report says. There are real doubts whether the Department of Commerce, Office of Homeless Youth, and Governor have the right approach.

This is heartbreaking! Our State must focus on preventing students and our youth from becoming homeless and providing opportunities to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. This is not about giving a fish- we need to be teaching them how to fish and providing them and families the skills to be successful. Preventing homelessness is not only the right thing to do morally and ethically, but it is the most fiscally responsible approach.

The latest reports indicate a failure by the State to protect children and families, and show a lack of commitment to reducing homelessness. The same-old Olympia big-government approach does not work- and most certainly is not in the best interest of at-risk children. The state needs to do a better job supporting early identification and early intervention.

Solutions must include building strong families, building stable homes, and building programs that provide opportunities for every student and every family to be successful. The State is releasing these children without the necessary life skills and in unstable environments.

Peter Abbarno, candidate for State House in the 20th Legislative District, business owner, attorney, and Centralia Mayor Pro Tem.

The Legislature created the Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection Programs (OHY) within the Department of Commerce in 2015. OHY is responsible for leading efforts to coordinate a spectrum of funding, policy, and practice efforts related to homeless youth and improving the safety, health, and welfare of homeless youth in the state.

Another OHY study from 2019 evidences that more than half – 58 percent – of the state’s 215 rural school districts have no services for homeless youth either within their boundaries or within 10 miles of their district. Sixty-four rural school districts, or 30 percent of the total, reported homeless students and do not have any services available to them.

Peter Abbarno with Rep. Richard DeBolt at the Cascade Community Health Legislative-Governmental Forum discussing homelessness, housing, substance abuse, and mental health issues.

This report is just plain sad. We deserve better and should expect better. I am committed to working on solutions.

Our State must measure success with homelessness- not by the number of bills passed or money spent- but on how many people are lifted out of poverty and avoid homelessness. Government can’t merely spend its way out of this situation and Government can’t regulate its way out of this situation. This takes true long-term investment in our future.

Government must empower people, organizations, and families in the local communities to work on solutions. Local social, health, and faith based non-profit organizations are in a better position to understand the needs of a community and address local concerns. We need to be focusing on the most vulnerable, like children and young adults, families, seniors, and veterans, and those that want to be successful.

Peter Abbarno, candidate for State House in the 20th Legislative District, business owner, attorney, and Centralia Mayor Pro Tem.

Recommendation from the State of Washington Office of Homeless Youth within the Department of Commerce include:

  • Young people exit systems without adulting skills, such as financial and conflict management, rental experience, goal setting, cooking, and other basic skills that enable them to thrive in their community.
  • Partnerships across state agencies, tribes, counties and community-based providers are needed to coordinate trauma-informed and culturally responsive services for young people and their natural supports to facilitate housing stability.
  • A one-size-fits-all approach to housing will not address the diversity of housing and service needs of this population.

On a recent trip by the Governor to the Hub City Mission’s Severe Weather Shelter, I voiced my belief that the Department of Commerce must be more flexible and a one-side-fits-all plan for homelessness does not work for our community. It is interesting to read the Office of Homeless Youth Prevention Report (which is part of the Department of Commerce) agree that one-size-fits-all does not work and the Department of Commerce must change.

There are 197 homeless students in Centralia, 130 in Chehalis, 43 in Kalama, 167 in Woodland, and the list goes on. Our community, and our State, can’t afford to not find solutions and opportunities for students and their families to break the poverty cycle.

Peter Abbarno, candidate for State House in the 20th Legislative District, business owner, attorney, and Centralia Mayor Pro Tem.

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