National Center for Youth Law

STRATEGIES

Washington State Coalition for the Homeless v. Dept. of Social & Health Services

The complaint, filed by homeless families with children and the Washington State Coalition for the Homeless, asserted constitutional claims and state and federal statutory claims. The action concerned the state’s failure to assist homeless families, including those who need housing assistance to prevent or shorten foster care placement.

Overview

FILE NO., COURT AND DATE FILED

91-2-15889-4 (King County Super. Ct., July 23, 1991)

CITATIONS

133 Wn.2d 894 (1997)

CLEARINGHOUSE REVIEW NO.

47,062

ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFFS

Michael Mirra (currently Executive Director of the Tacoma Housing Authority)
902 S. L Street
Tacoma, WA 98405-4037
(253) 207-4429
Fax: (253) 207-4440
mmirra@tacomahousing.org

HISTORY AND STATUS

On August 21, 1992, the court granted in part defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s federal statutory claims. On December 15, 1992, the court certified a class of all present and future families with homeless children, and all families who needed or would need housing assistance to prevent or shorten their children’s foster placement.

On February 16, 1994, the court held that in dependency cases the superior court had the power to order the state agency to provide housing assistance when homelessness is the primary factor for foster placement. The court also held that state law required the agency to implement a plan to assist adequately homeless families.

After a May 31, 1994 trial, the court ruled that the agency’s plan was inadequate to address the needs of homeless children. The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) appealed the court’s final order to submit an adequate plan directly to the Washington Supreme Court. The court heard argument on October 8, 1996.

On December 24, 1997, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision on all counts, finding that dependency courts have the authority to order DSHS to provide housing assistance to homeless families; that DSHS must “perform its duty according to professionally accepted procedures and standards”; that an adequate plan must include prevention assistance, emergency shelter assistance, transitional assistance to get children out of shelters and into stable housing, and a process for ongoing monitoring and evaluation; and that DSHS’s planning process must include coordination within DSHS’s divisions and with other state agencies. Washington’s legislature responded to the court’s ruling with legislation codifying the ruling and substantial increases in funding. In 2000, plaintiffs joined the defendants in seeking dismissal of the suit.