Last Sunday was sine die: the last day of the 2019 state legislative session. It was a big year for housing and homelessness priorities—and there’s lots of reason for advocates to celebrate. Here’s a recap of how YouthCare’s legislative priories fared and why they’ll make a difference in young people’s lives.


Why was this bill important?

This bill made several minor technical fixes that will have major impacts for youth experiencing homelessness. Most important, the bill changed the law so that youth who are sleeping in a shelter will have a legal pathway to stay beyond the 60-day time limit.

Under the current law, youth ages 12-17 who are staying in shelters (HOPE Centers) can only stay for a maximum of 60 days. But for those youth who don’t have another place to go, the alternative is to “shelter hop”—that is, hop from shelter to shelter every two months. As you can imagine, this can be incredibly destabilizing and traumatic. With the passage of this bill, youth will now be able to file a petition to the courts (Child in Need of Services Petition), which can allow them to stay in a HOPE Center for up to nine months while they work to reconcile with their family or find a safe alternative.

Other important components of this bill include: expanding the eligibility of street outreach services from age 18 to the age 24, aligning education requirements for different shelter staff, and adding a second young person to sit on the Office of Homeless Youth Advisory Committee. Big thanks to Rep. Lisa Callan for sponsoring this bill in the House and Senator Patty Kuderer for sponsoring it in the Senate!


Why was this bill important?

This bill will phase out the traumatic practice of sending youth to detention for status offenses over the course of the next five years and puts us on course for developing therapeutic and community-based alternatives instead.

Washington State currently locks up the most youth in the nation for status offenses. Status offenses are non-criminal offenses that apply only to minors, such as skipping school or running away from foster care. Under federal law, it is illegal to detain youth for status offenses. Yet, Washington relies on a legal loophole called a “valid court order exception (VCO)” to send youth to detention despite federal law. Moreover, the state uses the VCO to disproportionately detain youth of color: in 2017, youth of color comprised more than 53% of status offenders sent to detention. But the research on youth detention is clear: it correlates with higher dropout rates, higher levels of recidivism, and lowered economic opportunity. Starting in 2020, our state will offer youth in crisis support, rather than punishment.

Major thanks to Senator Jeanne Darneille for sponsoring this bill in the Senate and Rep. Noel Frame for sponsoring the bill in the Senate.


Why was this bill important?

This bill would align Washington with federal law by exempting minors from charges of prostitution and would create therapeutic alternatives to detention.

Under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), any person under the age of 18 who performs a commercial sex act is considered a victim of human trafficking, regardless of force, fraud, or coercion. But Washington State is currently in violation of federal law: the state continues to arrest and charge minors for prostitution, even though they are under the legal age of consent. Because Washington has no therapeutic alternatives to detention, our state ultimately criminalizes youth for their own abuse.

Unfortunately, the bill did not make it past the House and Senate fiscal committees, but we will try again next year. Big thanks to Rep. Tina Orwall for sponsoring the bill in the House and Senator Manka Dhingra for sponsoring it in the Senate.

Housing Trust Fund: $175 million investment!

The Housing Trust Fund is our state’s largest fund for constructing and preserving affordable housing. We advocated for a $200 million dollar investment and the final budget ultimately included a historic $175 million! The investment also includes $6 million for the joint YouthCare and Capitol Hill Housing project to develop affordable housing and an employment training center in the heart of Capitol Hill. Big thanks to Rep. Nicole Macri, Rep. Timm Ormsby, and Speaker Frank Chopp, for their leadership in the House, and Senators David Frockt and Jamie Pedersen in the Senate.

Progressive Revenue: Yes & No

This year, YouthCare joined advocates from across the state to fight for a more equitable tax code. Washington has the most upside-down tax code in the country: the bottom 20% of the state pay almost 18% of their income in taxes compared to the top 1% who pay only 3% of their annual income. One of this year’s most progressive tax proposals was a capital gains tax, which would have only impacted the wealthiest 1.2% of the population. Unfortunately, the capital gains tax was not included in the final budget. There were, however, other progressive tax proposals that did, including making the real estate excise tax (REET) more progressive, raising the Business & Occupation (B&O) tax on large corporations and financial institutions, and closing multiple tax loopholes. We’ll continue to push for tax reform next year!

Stay tuned!

There were many other human services and social justice priorities that YouthCare supported this session. Stay tuned for a comprehensive update of bills that passed that will positively impact youth and young adults experiencing homelessness!

YouthCare staff in Olympia!
YouthCare staff in Olympia!