Young Adult Housing Program makes GED certificate possible for Yakima mother
Program faces elimination under Senate Republicans’ proposed budget
Isabel Hernandez has a lot to balance.
The 23-year-old single mother of two toddlers works as a waitress part time and takes GED prep classes. And last fall the Yakima woman encountered yet another challenge: homelessness.
Not able to afford a home for her family, she spent a couple of weeks floundering. Some nights she couch surfed with relatives; others she spent in her car.
That’s when a friend told her about the state’s Young Adult Housing Program. For Hernandez and others who are eligible, the program provides housing assistance and weekly money-management advice from a caseworker.
The Washington State Department of Commerce’s housing subsidy program, officially dubbed the Youth Specific Consolidation Homeless Grant, was created through a proviso in the state’s 2016 supplemental budget. The program’s residents, who are ages 18 to 24, typically pay a share of their income or a portion of the rent while they get on their feet. Recipients leave the program once they meet goals they outlined with a caseworker, typically within 18 to 24 months.
So far, the program has supported young adults in the cities of Spokane and Yakima, and in King, Whatcom and Snohomish counties.
Because of the Young Adult Housing Program, Hernandez was able to move into her new place about four months ago with her two boys, ages 1 and 3.
“It’s a one-bedroom apartment. It’s just me and my two kids. It’s home,” she said.
But the future of the program that helps Hernandez and other struggling young adults is uncertain. While the governor’s and House Democrats’ proposed 2017–19 budgets include money to support the program, the Senate Republicans’ budget would eliminate all $1.5 million for the program, said Kim Justice, director of the state’s Office of Homeless Youth Prevention and Protection.
Justice said she worries that as state lawmakers rightfully invest billions of dollars in K-12 education, the way they balance the budget could leave vulnerable young adults behind.
“We have to recognize that our investments in K-12 are essentially going down the drain if we drop support for young people once they graduate,” she said. “We can’t just drop that support.”
Justice added that today’s job market often requires young adults to complete degrees, apprenticeships or other job training beyond a high school diploma.
Some young adults served by the program may still be in high school, or like Hernandez, are working to complete a GED certificate, Justice said.
The Young Adult Housing Program focuses on meeting the developmental needs of young adults, which sets it apart from approaches that support older adults who have experienced homelessness over many episodes or long periods of time.
Modeled after a similar program for teens who age out of the foster-care system, the Young Adult Housing Program’s aim is to support young adults whose families won’t or can’t.
Although 18 year olds are legally adults, their brains haven’t finished developing and it’s normal for them to make mistakes that could affect their future, financial or otherwise, Justice said. While some young adults have families with the means to help them, not everyone is as fortunate.
“Mistakes are bound to happen, but they shouldn’t lead to homelessness,” Justice said. “If they don’t have the support of a family, young people can really struggle on their own.”
Youth homelessness continues to increase
Justice said the Senate’s elimination of the Young Adult Housing Program would “take us a step back in our goal to prevent and end youth homelessness.”
According to a 2016 Department of Commerce report, about 13,000 young people accessed homeless services over the course of the year and the vast majority of them — 87 percent — were ages 18 to 24.
The problem of homelessness is also an education problem.
Washington’s K-12 schools identified nearly 40,000 students experiencing homelessness during the 2015–16 school year. Of them, 3,412 are experiencing homelessness on their own, without the support of family. That’s an increase of nearly 12 percent from the prior school year.
For families struggling with homelessness or who are on the verge of homelessness, the state Department of Social and Health Service’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, known as TANF, can make a difference. The program, which also would face cuts in the Senate Republicans’ budget, provides temporary cash assistance for certain low-income families, job-seeking help and child care so parents can go to work and support their children.
Homelessness has a troubling impact on a student’s ability to make it to school, much less focus on academics.
According to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, homeless students were chronically absent from school twice as often as students who were not homeless during the 2015–16 school year. In the 2015–16 academic year, the rate for all students was 16 percent; for homeless students, it was 33 percent. OSPI defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of school days.
Housing support takes school off back burner
Through the Young Adult Housing Program, Hernandez has met personal goals she didn’t think were possible. In the beginning, she said, she didn’t consider rebuilding her credit, but she recently was able to pay off a large debt that she owed, thanks to the financial literacy guidance from her caseworker.
“We’ll talk about things I’m trying to improve on,” she said, such as increasing her credit score and building a savings fund for emergencies.
“It’s not just a program that pays your rent,” Hernandez said. “It’s a program that actually helps you set goals.”
The next goal for Hernandez is to get her GED certificate, something she’s tried to accomplish a few times, but couldn’t find the time to finish.
If not for the housing program, she may never earn that diploma. She would have to find a second job instead to help cover the rent and her bills, she said.
“School would be on the back burner,” Hernandez said.