Many of the bills introduced in the Legislature dealing with homelessness have died. But some, aimed at youth, are still being discussed — even as Democrats and Republicans disagree about how much to spend.
OLYMPIA — As the legislative session nears its scheduled end this week, Republicans and Democrats are, as usual, disagreeing on spending. On the issue of homelessness alone, they are tens of millions of dollars apart.
The Senate has included $9.6 million in the state supplemental budget for homelessness, while the House wants $60 million. Of more than 30 bills introduced on the subject, only a handful survive.
As the House pushes for more money, members have focused on legislation to benefit youth, the most vulnerable segment of the homeless population, said House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle. Democrats also see the subject of how to help homeless youth as most likely to draw GOP support.
The House budget provides housing and support for homeless students and their families while also gathering homeless-student data through grants.
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House Bill 1682, modeled on a program at McCarver Elementary School in Tacoma that helps students and their families obtain stable housing, passed the Senate 42-6.
An amendment by Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, cut the proposed $4 million cost. But that and other changes were accepted by the House, and the bill awaits Gov. Inslee’s signature.
“Every child in the state of Washington deserves to have a place to stay,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, “a place to do their homework, an opportunity to succeed in school, to enjoy all the aspects of student life.”
Chopp said the GOP is “open to [the bill] because of two benefits: it helps kids succeed in school, and it helps the homeless.”
Meanwhile, House Democrats have labeled the “rainy day fund,” or the Budget Stabilization Account, as the funding source for an array of homeless services. But HB 1682 co-sponsor Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said using it “isn’t feasible,” and Republicans seem to agree.
Still, Elizabeth Trautman of YouthCare, a community-based service program in Seattle for homeless youth, said it’s a relief to see funding in both parties’ budgets.
Included in both budgets is the Homeless Youth Prevention, Protection And Education Act, known as the HOPE act, which developed placement alternatives and services for homeless youth. There are 23 HOPE beds — emergency beds for minors — across the state. The program was established in 1999 with the goal of funding 75.
While the House budget proposes adding more HOPE beds than the Senate’s package does, it’s not by much. The fact is, both budgets note the added need. It’s the first time HOPE beds have received funding, said Trautman, “for as long as I can remember.”