Washington's shelter restriction statute is RCW 13.32A.082 which states that:
The regulation from Washington's Department of Social and Health Services that specifically refers to shelters is as follows:
Interpreting the statute and the regulation together, several things are clear about shelter restriction laws in Washington. First, the original statute seems to have been written broadly enough to include within its scope individual citizens who are providing shelter to minors. The statute refers to ``an individual,'' and specifies that that individual report the location of the child to ``the law enforcement agency of the jurisdiction in which the person lives.''400 Obviously, the legislature gave Washington's Department of Social and Health Services the discretion to write a regulation that governs shelters' reporting of homeless youth.
While homeless people under age 18 are referred to in the statute as ``minors,'' the regulation uses the term ``youth,'' but leaves it undefined.401 The agency may have decided to change this language in order to broaden the scope of the statute. If ``youth'' can be broadly defined by shelter staff as any young person, without mandatory knowledge of legal minority status, more homeless young people could be reported by the staff. This could make it more difficult for shelter staff to simply plead innocence to a young person's age. This change in the term may allow shelter staff to further the legislative goal of accounting for homeless youth and funneling them into the system.
Another restrictive feature of this regulation is that the report must be made within eight hours of learning that the youth staying at the shelter does not have parental permission to be there.402 This negatively affects homeless youth in that they could feel forced to stay at a shelter for less than eight hours or risk being reported. If, for example, the young person wanted to sleep in the shelter, she would have to time her arrival so that she could get a night's rest and safety, and then leave without being reported. In addition, many shelters have rules that specify times to enter and exit the premises that may interfere with a young person's ability to evade getting reported.
All of this is not to suggest that homeless youth should try to evade the system. To the contrary, a realistic exploration of the legal hurdles homeless youth face in gaining access to resources must include an analysis of the practical barriers shelter restriction statutes and regulations impose on teenagers looking for shelter and nourishment. Any homeless youth interested in staying at a shelter would have to risk being reported to the social services agency, the local law enforcement agency, or her parents. For some, that may be a greater risk than sleeping on the street.
In addition, if by allowing the shelter staff to choose to report the location of the youth to her parents in an attempt at some kind of reconciliation, an eight hour limit on that report seems so brief as to actually discourage any possibility of a reconciliation. A newly homeless young person may need time and distance from a dysfunctional situation she chose to leave. Eight hours may not be enough time for that child to gain enough perspective to move forward and make choices about the future. In addition, a young person often leaves home after a fight with a family member, and this relative may not have had adequate time to find perspective, or even ensure that a youth's return would be safe and welcome.
Finally, the regulation allows for the shelter staff to have a choice in terms of who or what agency they notify.403 Shelter staff's discretion in terms of reporting will probably benefit the child in the sense that the staff person can talk with the child and make an appropriate choice. If the young person needs to be reconciled with the parents, then a staff person's choice to not include an agency in the reporting could preclude unnecessary agency involvement. If, however, the household is in need of resources to help resolve conflict and instability, shelter staff could help provide connections.