Nataya Foss remembers being told that she would soon have to leave the shelter. She had been staying in one of Washington state’s few shelters for unaccompanied homeless minors, but because of restrictions that come with government funding, the shelter could house her for only three weeks. Her time was almost up.
At the age of 16, A.S. had just made his high school football team when his life was upended. His mother was moving overseas, and he would have to go live with his remarried father and four step-siblings in another part of town.
By the age of 17, David Vanwetter had been in and out of detention perhaps a dozen times.
Washington state is vowing to keep young people like Vanwetter — often with complicated and troubled lives — from becoming homeless after they exit the jailhouse door. The state Legislature has ambitiously pledged to stop releasing youth from “publicly funded systems of care” — juvenile detention, foster care and mental health and drug treatment — into homelessness by the end of 2020. And that doesn’t mean putting them in a cab to a homeless shelter: Youth must have “safe and stable housing,” the law says.
At 7 a.m., teenagers are scurrying to dress and head to class. There are no parents or older siblings nearby to push them out of bed and out the door. And the commute isn’t long — just a short walk from prison bed to classroom.
The Washington State Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional responsibility to fund public education for the last three decades, according to a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court. “By the Legislature’s own terms, it has not met its duty to make ample provision for ‘basic education,’” wrote Justice Debra Stephens in an 85-page opinion. “This court cannot idly stand by as the Legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform.”
In 2009, the Legislature passed a bill meant to reform funding formulas, HB2261, and update the 1977 Basic Education Act by 2018. In Justice Stephens’ opinion, the high court reaffirmed its jurisdiction to oversee the Legislature’s timely implementation of those changes. “Ultimately, it is our responsibility to hold the State accountable to meet its constitutional duty,” Justice Stephens writes in the opinion.