On Monday I had the opportunity to meet with some engaged youth from the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. It was stunning to hear how many of them have experienced homelessness. I heard personal accounts of the enormous challenges many youth in our communities face every day and about how important it is we preserve vital services that help them get back on their feet.

One of my constituents in the group bravely shared her struggle with me. When she was 17, she found herself couch surfing and eventually sleeping in alleyways. Her sister was born with autism and her mother was driven to bankruptcy when she couldn’t cover the costs of expensive medical treatment. She dropped out of high school when finding a place to sleep at night became her biggest priority. After 3½ years of living homeless, she was able to get connected with the Seattle-based organization, YouthCare, and enroll in its highly successful barista program. This program equips homeless and struggling youth with a very specific and desirable skill set, especially in a coffee-loving city like Seattle.

An important message that she and others relayed was homeless youth often feel a sense of worthlessness, a burden to their family and friends, and they eventually lose all confidence. With help from organizations like YouthCare, and training services like the barista program, young people are finding their confidence again. These youth have faced physical and emotional challenges most of us never will. Like any other youth, they have ambitious goals and high standards of achievement for themselves. It is our role to give them every possible opportunity to make those dreams a reality.

I’ve been proud to work on legislation with the Coalition on Homelessness for the past two years. We passed the Fair Tenant Screening Act last year and were able to protect key social safety net services like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Disability Lifeline, and funding the Housing Trust Fund. I also worked with my colleagues on a document recording fee assessed by county auditors to help communities protect critical funding that can reduce and end homelessness in Washington.

Until our streets are not used as beds, our work is not finished. I am committed to finding more solutions that protect our most vulnerable population and look forward to working with the coalition throughout this session and in the future.