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State could conduct major study of homeless children

By John Stang

The state would undertake a sweeping count of the number of homeless kids from birth through 10 years old, under a bill working its way through the House.

The bill by Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, would order the Washington State Institute for Public Policy to tackle such a census, including determining the average length of a child’s homelessness. The institute would also have to make recommendations to the Legislature on the best ways to address the problems of homelessness for the children. If passed, the bill would set a Dec. 31 deadline for a preliminary report to go to the Legislature.

“We do not know much about these families and children prior to them entering school,” Fey told the House Early Learning & Human Services Committee at a hearing on Tuesday. Melanie Smith, representing Wellspring Family Services, added, “We don’t know how many children who are homeless.”

Smith noted, “This is a population with intense needs.”

The House passed the same bill last year, with a Senate committee also giving it a green light. However, the 2014 session ended prior to a Senate floor vote on the bill.

The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction annually collects information from each school district about the number of homeless students. Estimates of Washington’s homeless student population range from roughly 30,000 to roughly 42,000. The OSPI figure from the 2012-2013 school year was 30,609. That included 1,254 students who had no shelter at all, 8,202 who reported some kind of temporary housing and 21,153 who were living with friends or non-parent family members on a temporary basis. One statewide spot count found 1,872 homeless students in Seattle’s schools, 1,220 in the Spokane public school system, 508 in Wenatchee and 557 in Vancouver.

A staff analysis of Fey’s bill says that there has been no “robust” study of younger homeless children statewide by the institute since 2002.

Distributed by Crosscut Public Media

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