Houses for homeless students in Pierce County shutting down due to budget cuts

GRAHAM, Wash. -- A mattress and a warm room is more than Linnea Benthien is used to.

“This is a huge opportunity to have a bed, like, this is amazing,” Benthien said.

It’s a safe place where she creates her bucket list of more than 400 things to do in her life.

“Number 253 is to get my diploma,” Benthien said.

Years ago, that goal seemed impossible for Benthien, who was homeless, but now she is thriving with free housing provided by Bethel Public Schools.

“The reason why this started is because we found a young man by Bethel High School in a cardboard box,” said Jay Brower, director of community connections for Bethel Public Schools.

Since 2004, the district has housed more than 100 homeless students between two homes, including the young man in that cardboard box.

“This man in particular graduated with a 3.4 average GPA,” Brower said.

Now due to budget cuts and the fact that the homes are not fully occupied at all times, Pierce County will no longer fund the program.

Benthien and other students are scrambling to find new homes so they are not back on the streets.

Bethel School District Superintendent Tom Seigel says the most frustrating part is that the homes are already paid for.

“This is an absurd situation we have free housing available; we simply need someone to manage the program and help these kids,” Seigel said.

They need $100,000 a year to run the program for 10 students. Pierce County has a million-dollar shortfall in fees that pay for programs like theirs.

“They are not just cutting program, they are cutting people, they are cutting chances for people,” Benthien said.

Pierce County councilman Derek Young told Q13 News he will introduce a budget amendment in an effort to keep the program through the end of the school year.

If the program is cut, educators worry about the long-term effects.

“These kids are being booted in such a way that they won’t complete their education,” Seigel said.

The homes will shut down December 1. The district is hoping the county will step up, at least with partial funding so they can keep the programs running until the summer.

Following our report, Pierce County officials emphasized that Associated Ministries, the organization that manages the homes, have found safe places for the displaced students. Tess Colby with Pierce County Community Connections says the Bethel homes are funded by document recording fees. In 2015 they had $2 million in document recording fees. This year they only have $1 million. Due to the shortfall many programs cannot be funded at all and many more did not get 100% of its funding request.

Pierce County says they did provide some funds to Associated Ministries that could keep one of the homes open. But it's unclear if it's enough money for that to happen.