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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Help sought for homeless youth, foster children

OLYMPIA – Homeless youth and foster children would get more help with higher education and apprenticeships under two bills heard by separate House committees Tuesday.

One bill aims to help foster and homeless youth by adding apprenticeships to the existing Passport to College Promise Program. It would also lower the qualification age from 16 to 13 years old to bring it in line with federal student aid for foster children and would make homeless youth eligible for the program.

Fred Kingston, program manager with the College Success Foundation, said expanding services for foster care and homeless youth would greatly increase their graduation rates which lag behind the national average. It would also increase the number of post-secondary graduates.

“If you expand this program you can expect a strong return on both human and economic terms,” he told the House Higher Education Committee. “Homeless students will benefit greatly from the scholarship and support.”

Azia Ruff, who spent part of her childhood in the Washington foster care system, said the financial support offered by the bill might have allowed her to stay in college.

Ruff said she had to work more hours to pay for school, which kept her from accessing on-campus services and tutoring she needed.

“I worked harder, I studied harder, I slept less, I ate less just to make it work with what I had,” she said. “The quality of my life decreased as I spread myself too thin trying to compensate for the lack of support in college.”

Another bill would create a work group with state and private social service agencies to improve education opportunities for foster youth and homeless children. It would also make sure the group has members of low-income communities and people of color to improve equity across economic, racial and ethnic lines.

Many homeless and foster care students can’t access the full benefits of the programs meant to help them, said Liz Trautman, director of public policy and advocacy with the Mockingbird Society.

“We’re particularly pleased to see that the needs of students experiencing foster care and homelessness are considered together,” she told the House Education Committee. “These students often have overlapping needs.”