A grass-roots solution for homeless youths deserves help from the Legislature.

Share story

EACH year, hundreds, maybe thousands, of youths in Washington have family situations too unstable for them to stay at home, but not bad enough to warrant them going into foster care.

Their options are limited. Washington funds just 23 beds in youth homeless shelters. Most often, these youths “couch surf” from friend to friend until they end up on the street.

Another option — one that the state Legislature should embrace — has emerged in the form of what are known as “host homes.” In at least four communities in the Puget Sound region, nonprofit agencies have recruited volunteers to open their homes to these adrift youths.

This grass-roots solution to youth homelessness needs some help in Olympia. Under a recent interpretation of state law, host-home networks must go through the difficult and expensive process of becoming foster-care networks if they serve kids under 18.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

That’s an unnecessary requirement, because youths at host homes are not foster kids. Without a change in law, these low-cost and well-meaning grass-roots solutions to youth homelessness will get mowed down.

Bills currently under consideration in the state House and Senate would support host homes by exempting them from foster-care licensing.

The proposed legislation include good safeguards, based on what host home networks in Mason County, Tacoma and Whidbey Island already do, and what a successful host-home network in Minneapolis has done for decades.

The networks must run background checks on host families, and the host-home network should have case managers to help the youths progress toward a healthy adulthood. The youths’ parents must grant permission, and the youths would be free to leave a host home.

In recent hearings, lawmakers expressed legitimate concerns about granting host homes a complete free pass. “Not every home who wants to take kids in are pure and great. Some have ulterior motives,” said state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Aberdeen.

To ensure safety, the state Department of Commerce, which houses a new statewide office of homeless-youth services, should check to make sure host homes follow the rules.

But the Legislature shouldn’t overthink this. Families are stepping up to voluntarily take in homeless kids. The state needs their help.

“This is a great thing that we want to see happen, and happen with the least amount of regulation by the state,” said state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Lakewood, chair of the Senate human services committee.

Give host homes, and the kids who rely on them, a boost.

Information in this editorial, originally published Jan. 31, 2016, was corrected Feb. 1, 2016. A previous version of this editorial incorrectly stated that youths at host homes are foster kids.