Promising Practices Spotlight: Spokane County makes student homelessness a top community priority

Published: September 13, 2017

How do you rally a community to support students experiencing homelessness? Spokane County offers an example of how it can be done.

What began as a desire to address a community problem evolved into a course of action, with a broad coalition of local leaders all lined up behind the plan and invested in its success.

The Spokane County experience teaches us that school districts do not bear lone responsibility for supporting students experiencing homelessness. A number of sectors in Spokane County—business, education, government, health, philanthropy, social services—all came together to declare student homelessness a top priority. In fact, the Spokane Regional Health District is playing a lead role, recognizing the connection between stable housing for students and its mission to protect and promote safe, healthy and thriving communities.

Spokane County followed a series of successive steps in organizing its community behind student homelessness. They included:

  • Identify a catalyst
  • Build a coalition
  • Acknowledge the problem
  • Examine data
  • Share findings
  • Attract funders
  • Select a model
  • Launch a pilot

Schoolhouse Washington’s case study spotlighting the Spokane County experience includes a guide to help local communities implement their own plan to prioritize the issue of student homelessness. Every community is unique, and local plans do not need to track the exact same steps that Spokane took. But the Spokane example can be used to inspire and inform your own efforts.

“Student homelessness affects all aspects of Spokane County—the business community, our hospitals, juvenile justice … everything,” said Ryan Oelrich, executive director of Priority Spokane, the organization that catalyzed the effort to elevate student homelessness into a top community issue. “Having all entities at the table has been extremely helpful in making student homelessness a community-wide priority.”


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