U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on Tuesday announced legislation that seeks to funnel more federal dollars to local programs that help prevent youth homelessness.
The bill would create two new grant programs. Funding from the grants would help pay for efforts to intervene before a youth or young adult becomes homeless, such as helplines or support groups for families. Murray plans to introduce the legislation when Congress reconvenes this fall.
“If we’re serious about tackling the homelessness crisis in our communities, then we need to be doing more to prevent youth homelessness before it begins,” Murray said.
Washington state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction identified at least 37,337 K-12 students experiencing homelessness during the 2021-22 school year. A 2019 analysis of state data found that more than 60% of students experiencing homelessness are students of color.
Advocates at the roundtable where Murray announced the new legislation called for more funding to support shelters and youth programs.
Maiya Rivas, a 23-year-old who has experienced youth homelessness, said staffing shortages, overcrowded shelters and case manager turnover made it difficult to access the resources she needed when looking for shelter and stability.
“I actually contemplated taking my own life because of how difficult and impossible it felt to find a safe place to stay,” said Rivas, a former University of Washington student who lost housing when the school closed at the start of the pandemic.
Advocates also asked lawmakers to focus on programs and policies that address root causes of homelessness, like mental health support, substance use treatment and livable wage jobs.
“They need more than housing,” said Degale Cooper, CEO of YouthCare, a nonprofit aimed at ending youth homelessness. “They need to have a future to look forward to.”
If Murray’s new legislation passes, funding could also go to assessing the causes and extent of youth homelessness.
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