Homeless Student Stability Program: A new approach to grantmaking

Published: March 27, 2024

The first program of its kind in the nation, the Homeless Student Stability Program (HSSP) is a vital resource for meeting the needs of students experiencing homelessness in Washington State. Through HSSP, grants are made statewide to Educational Service Districts (ESDs) and community-based organizations to identify students experiencing homelessness, coordinate support, and provide housing resources. But how is it decided where the funding goes and who gets it?

The state Office of Homeless Youth tapped Building Changes to lead the competitive funding process for new grants recently awarded under HSSP. Through this work, we had the opportunity to evaluate and redesign the grantmaking process into one rooted in our core values of equity, partnerships, people, and integrity. Our goal was to create a funding strategy and review process that was both equitable and reflective of the diverse communities HSSP serves.

With nearly 40,000 students experiencing homelessness in our state, demand for HSSP funding has continued to grow since the program was established in 2016. In the most recent funding round, 26 applications were received, with a total request of more than $5.13 million. With only about $1.63 million available to grant, we knew it was imperative to not only distribute the funding where it is needed most, but also ensure the grantmaking and decision-making process prioritized equity and input from community and people with lived experience of housing instability.

Twenty community members came together to form our community review panel, representing young people with lived experience, government, schools, and community organizations from across the state. It was especially important to include young people with lived experience, so we worked to reduce the obstacles that would prevent them from fully participating in the process. “We made sure to stay connected with young people to alleviate barriers—like lack of computer access—that could be an issue for gathering their feedback,” the lead consultant on the HSSP review process, Jonathan Houston, said. “Through this process, we learned we need to be intentional about setting aside time and resources for youth to ensure they have optimal engagement. This also includes ensuring staff members are ready to support the nuanced needs that may arise for young people.”

Our community review panel took a critical look at who would be served by proposed projects seeking HSSP funding and where—to account for population and geographic diversity in distribution of grants. The panel was particularly committed to prioritizing communities that have been underserved by previous HSSP grants, such as those serving people with disabilities, and organizations in areas with limited housing resources.

Managing Director of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships, Mehret Tekle-Awarun, shared that this new approach was modeled after Building Changes’ Washington Youth & Families Fund grantmaking strategy. “We wanted to create more transparency and foster more community engagement, both for the applicants and for us. We were intentional in how we collaborated to make these tough decisions.”

Building Changes has long played a role in supporting HSSP by facilitating partnerships between school districts and community-based organizations, providing training and technical assistance to grantees, and advocating to bolster HSSP.  We are excited about the impact their projects will have statewide and are honored to support them to meet the needs of students and families experiencing homelessness in their communities.

2024 – 2025 Homeless Student Stability Program Grantees:

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