We’re all feeling the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the stay home orders that state governments have issued. By staying home we’re keeping ourselves and others safe, but staying home isn’t so simple for young people who are homeless or experiencing housing instability. Now that schools in Washington state are closed for the remainder of the school year, thousands of young people have suddenly lost a lifeline to regular meals, essential services, and comforting stability—all at a time when fear and uncertainty are already at an all time high.

That’s why Building Changes and the Raikes Foundation have come together to launch the Washington State Student and Youth Homelessness COVID-19 Response Fund. The fund is working rapidly to get resources into the hands of schools and nonprofit organizations so they can respond to the urgent and growing needs of homeless students and youth across Washington state. Those needs could include anything from financial assistance and housing, to internet access for school, to wellness and safety checks.

In Washington, roughly 50,000 students and unaccompanied youth experience homelessness each year. They face a steep uphill battle to graduation, and yet we know from the research that a high school diploma is one of the best tools available to these young people to prevent them from experiencing homelessness as adults. COVID-19 threatens to push more young people into unsafe living situations, and potentially disrupt their education long-term. Keeping our students healthy and on track now could mean preventing a lifetime of homelessness and other health related issues.

Right now, it’s unclear whether federal or state assistance will reach these young people at all, and if it does, the scale of the need is certain to dwarf the assistance that cash-strapped government agencies can provide. Building Changes will be working closely with government partners to ensure funding enhances any public dollars that are designated for students and youth and will be working to fill gaps that public dollars cannot meet.

Crucially, the funding provided to schools and nonprofits will be completely flexible. The research backs this approach. We know that when organizations have flexible dollars to meet the diverse needs of students and their families, it results in better outcomes for students experiencing homelessness.

Washington’s young people are brilliant and resilient, but COVID-19 has cast incredible uncertainty over their futures—they need our support right now. A global pandemic can feel overwhelming, but we can make a huge difference for thousands of young people in our own backyard if we act quickly.

I hope you will consider giving to the fund and joining the fight to protect youth experiencing homelessness across Washington. Their futures depend on it.