Partnership forms to house homeless Centralia students in college campus student apartments

Scholars Haven: Centralia City Council, United Way of Lewis County and other agencies and community members come together with plan to use campus apartments


A newly formed partnership is working to house homeless students in the Centralia School District.

In partnership with multiple local agencies and community members, the Centralia City Council voted unanimously during its Tuesday, March 26, meeting to donate $5,000 from the city’s undesignated fund balance to help put eight unhoused Centralia High School students into CHI student apartments on Centralia College’s campus, located at 111 S. Ash St.

The CHI apartments, which opened last fall, can house a total of 110 students. The apartments each include four rooms with two beds each, as well as common areas with full kitchens.

Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston explained during Tuesday’s meeting the apartments are not at full occupancy, opening the door for some Centralia High School students to move in.

The plan is to house eight students from April 1 through Aug. 31 while working to find a more permanent housing solution. They will enroll in Centralia College’s Running Start program, making them eligible to be housed at the CHI apartments, which are exclusively for Centralia College students.

This temporary housing project’s name is Scholars Haven.

“Not all of them are on the college-bound track, so some of them would be taking one college credit course, which would be the student success course,” Smith Johnston said. “Others might be taking additional courses, but this would allow them to remain students at the high school where they have connections and resources, but be connected to the college, which might inspire them to continue their education.”

She added Centralia College has case management resources for those experiencing homelessness.

Centralia College Vice President of Student Services Robert Cox spoke to The Chronicle on Thursday to explain what resources the college can provide.

“We actually got legislative funding last year for a student basic needs navigator position, and that person works with students and helps connect them with college resources, but also external resources in the community,” Cox said.

Additionally, the college has access to Washington state’s Support for Students Experiencing Homelessness grant.

“It’s over $100,000,” Cox said. “And it’s available for students that are in crisis around housing and provides grant funding for rent payments, utility bills, transportation expenses and other things to help students stay in college.”

While Cox did not know exactly how many Centralia College students are currently experiencing homelessness, he said approximately 70% of students enrolled at the college are eligible to receive federal Pell Grants for financial aid, meaning they are in the lowest income brackets.

“We have a very large number of financially needy students,” Cox said.

He added should the Scholars Haven program be successful, Centralia College is looking at possibly offering up more beds for the program at the college’s apartment complex near the Centralia Timberland Library once renovations are complete.

Cox hopes to encourage some of these high school students to pursue college degrees to open up opportunities for them to get better paying jobs and careers down the road.

Only eight students can currently take advantage of this opportunity, and Smith Johnston said on Tuesday more than eight need it.

She added the students who have been selected were chosen as not only are they experiencing homelessness, but have no parent or legal guardian and are over the age of 18. While these students do have access to shelter services normally available to all experiencing homelessness, those environments aren’t exactly conducive to studying.

At a town hall event earlier this year, which included Centralia School District Board President

Centralia Schools Superintendent Lisa Grant told The Chronicle a total of 188 students are currently experiencing homelessness in the district.

“The (Centralia) School District is working that out and will continue to try to serve all students,” Smith Johnston said Tuesday.

With spring break approaching, and just under two weeks before Centralia College’s enrollment deadline, Smith Johnston wanted to ensure the students knew they would have at least their first month’s rent paid. She wanted them to enroll at the college to be able to move in by the beginning of April.

On top of the $5,000 the city council approved to help pay for the students’ rent, Smith Johnston said community members have donated an additional $5,000.

“It costs $770 a month for each student. That is with their utilities, internet access, housing, etcetera,” Smith Johnston said.

She and other organizers hope to raise between $40,000 and $50,000, as more than eight students still need to be housed.

The United Way of Lewis County’s board voted to become Scholars Haven’s fiscal agent on Thursday, Smith Johnston told The Chronicle in an email, and is now accepting donations to help further fund the temporary housing project.

Community members who have already donated, along with Lewis County and the City of Centralia, include Heidi and Robert Pehl of I-5 Toyota, Snoopy (Willis) and Alta Smith, and Chad and Coralee Taylor, owners of The Chronicle.

Others involved in setting up Scholars Haven include:

• Centralia Deputy Mayor Cameron McGee

• Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope

• Centralia High School teacher David Bligh

• Centralia High School counselor Rose Waterfield

• Centralia College Vice President of Student Services Robert Cox

• United Way of Lewis County Executive Director Annie Oien

• Alice Menke of the Silver Agency

While the Scholars Haven program is partially funded, donations are being sought in order to meet the goal of paying the students’ rent throughout the end of August.

Those interested in donating can send money to the United Way of Lewis County marked for Scholars Haven. To donate, visit or visit the United Way office located at 450 NW Pacific Ave. in Chehalis.

“I’d like to make an appeal, especially to my fellow members of the faith community,” Centralia City Councilor Chris Brewer said in his councilor’s report at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. “I know I don’t like to mix religion and politics, but there’s a scripture that comes to mind that says, ‘Faith without works is dead.’ And if we really, really want to invest in the youth of our community, those who are struggling, those who are at that critical juncture, that critical moment that they need that help now, I would urge everybody, especially in the faith community … Please, donate what you can.”

For more information, call the United Way of Lewis County at 360-748-8100 or message on Facebook page at