This week, I am honored to join hundreds of people in Yakima to continue our work towards a day when NO ONE is homeless in Washington state. In its 22nd year, the annual conference on ending homelessness attracts national and local experts who offer participants an opportunity to grow in their technical expertise, while strengthening the growing network of statewide homeless advocates.For 3 days this week, the Yakima Convention Center is filled with the “movers and shakers” of the state homeless service system, including community and faith-based service providers, private and public funders and, most importantly, people who are, or have experienced homelessness.
The theme for this year’s event: The Changing Face of Homelessness offers us a chance to explore the many, many faces of homelessness. Today’s lunch keynote speaker, State superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, provided a sobering snapshot of the tens of thousands of homeless students in our state. The numbers of homeless kids in our schools are growing at an alarming rate – from 14,000 in 2005 to more than 26,000 in 2010. Superintendent Dorn shared a story about a student, John, who came to the attention of school administrators due to poor personal hygiene. John’s parents were not able to care for him, and the young man was sleeping either in his car or in the back of the school. Armed with this startling knowledge, teachers, church members and other community members sprang into action. Clothing was collected and resources gathered to help John find a safe place to stay and, eventually get his diploma. Recently, Dorn ran into John at a community event. Now a machinist at Boeing, John asked Dorn to tell his story – with the message that people CAN make a difference by doing the right thing. Without the help of caring people, John’s life would have taken a very different turn.
Dorn’s closing message… We can’t leave one kid out… if they live in our state they are OUR kids… kept running through my mind as the afternoon progressed. How can we ensure that all children in our state not only receive an education, BUT also have access to a safe place to live with their basic needs covered? Is that too much to reach for? I don’t think so.