Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, nestled on 12th Avenue, between Yesler Way and Jackson Street, is a diverse school where most of its students depend on free and reduced-price lunch. Market rate housing in the school’s surrounding neighborhoods is beyond reach for many of its families, just one other reason it’s been difficult keeping Gatzert’s little ones in the classroom.
The school’s turnover rate in 2015 was 31 percent. Between 50 to 70 of its students — nearly a fifth of the student population — are either homeless or unstably housed. But the Seattle Housing Authority hopes to help change that.
A new SHA pilot program called “Home from School” could take homelessness out of the equation for some of these students. The agency will shift who gets preference for some public housing and vouchers, if the SHA board of commissioners approves the proposal at an Aug. 15 meeting.
If approved, this could allow the agency to provide affordable housing to homeless families with children enrolled at Gatzert. The point is to ensure that the most vulnerable students are close to their school, able to pursue their education without interruption.
“These kids have incredible barriers to learning because of their family’s homelessness,” said SHA spokesperson Kerry Coughlin.
Participating families will be given preference for public housing units, or they will receive vouchers to be used on nonprofit or private rental housing options. Coughlin said that logistical and social support will be offered through SHA and still to be determined service providers.
SHA has aspirations to house all willing homeless families at Gatzert, though much depends on the availability of nearby units. Coughlin said it could be months after the school year starts before they can get families into housing.
Kent Koth of Seattle University’s Center for Community Engagement, which works closely with Gatzert, lauded SHA’s attempt to “innovate” and find solutions to the school’s homelessness problem.
“If we can get at the question of housing people who are in crisis, it’s a really big deal” said Koth, referring to the students at Gatzert.
Coughlin said that success depends on ensuring the families have stability at home. From there, SHA hopes to see consistent school attendance, and, eventually, academic improvement among the participating students.
Approaching housing and education as a single concern has gained currency with regional housing agencies in recent years.
The Tacoma Housing Authority, in partnership with McCarver Elementary, has seen some success with a similar pilot program launched five year ago. But Coughlin said that in contrast to this new SHA initiative, the McCarver project has certain participation requirements for families.
The SHA simply asks that families be housed in Gatzert’s catchment area, as defined by Seattle Public Schools.