Government agencies and social service organizations need to speed up their work to decrease the number of homeless students.
HOMELESS students: two words that shouldn’t go together.
New state data shows the population of homeless students in Washington state grew to 40,000 during the 2015-16 school year — an increase of about 12 percent from the previous year. In King and Snohomish counties, school districts reported an increase of 16 percent, or nearly 2,000 more students in unstable housing.
Government agencies and social-service organizations are already focused on this problem. They need to speed up their work. It’s difficult enough to get to school on time, with food in the belly and homework in hand. Life is that much harder for students who also have to worry about where they’re going to sleep that night and whether they will have anything to eat for dinner.
Lack of affordable housing is most often blamed for the homeless crisis. There are many causes, and debating them does not help the children affected. The solutions have been outlined by experts looking at this problem in a regional way. That should be the focus.
First, prevent homelessness whenever possible. Some solutions are as simple as helping people pay a power bill or get a car repaired so they don’t lose their home or job. The bigger challenge is maintaining affordable housing wherever it exists. Various government agencies are working on this, but they need to do so with more money and more urgency. The Legislature and the federal government have a lot of financial pressures this year, but family homelessness should remain near the top of the list.
Second, get people in permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible. Governments across the region are now using a central intake system to process people for housing and other needed services.
Of course, improving graduation rates and the public-school system will also make a difference in the long run by giving future adults the tools they need to succeed in life.
The solutions are not all that complicated. They all cost money, of course, and require political will. But we cannot tolerate this statistic: 40,000 Washington school children without a dependable and safe place to sleep each night.