Amanda Blevins has lived on the street since she was a teenager.
On Wednesday, she spoke to Washington’s first lady, Trudi Inslee, about the barriers homeless youth face. One of the biggest challenges: staying in school while homeless, she said.
There are more than 35,000 public school students who are homeless in Washington, according to information from A Way Home Washington.
During the 2014-15 school year, there were 2,313 homeless students in Clark County. In Vancouver Public Schools, the number of homeless students increased 26 percent during the 2015-2016 school year.
Inslee has teamed with the A Way Home Washington campaign to try to end youth homelessness in Washington. The first lady is touring the state with the hopes of gaining a better understanding of the challenges the homeless youth population faces and how to resolve them.
Despite the instability in her life, Blevins, who is now in her early 20s, managed to get her General Education Development certificate and more recently, a job.
“I love my job,” Blevins said. “I’m just a dishwasher.”
Inslee leaned in and told Blevins that she was impressed.
“There is no ‘just a,’ ” Inslee said of Blevins’ job.
A Way Home Washington is backed by the Campion Foundation, which is partnering with the state to raise awareness about the obstacles young people living on the street face.
Inslee said many of the young people she’s met are striving to be self-sufficient.
“They want to be independent and contribute to society,” she said.
While in Vancouver, Inslee also heard from many of the community’s leaders who are tackling a lack of affordable housing and trying to help those who don’t have shelter.
She heard from the homeless liaisons in both the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts.
“The rental crisis in the area, the lack of affordable housing has impacted us in a huge way,” Peggy Carlson, the district liaison with Evergreen Public Schools, told Inslee.
Rental vacancy rates have dipped as low as 2 percent in Vancouver.
One bright spot, Carlson noted, is the Homeless Student Stability Program grant, which was funded by the state’s Department of Commerce. The grant, new this year, will pay for a housing navigator in the school districts to help students and their families find homes. The program started Sept. 1 and ends June 30.