Coalition Testifies on Support for Homeless Students
The citywide housing affordability crisis has pushed record numbers of New Yorkers into the shelter system. The experience of homelessness is especially traumatic for the 33,460 school-aged children who spent at least some time in a DHS shelter in fiscal year 2017. During the 2016-17 school year, a record 111,562 New York City public and charter school students were homeless at some point, including those living in shelters, doubled-up with family or friends, or unsheltered. These students often struggle to keep up with their stably housed peers in class while grappling with the stresses and instability of homelessness – from navigating a difficult intake and eligibility process with their families, to being placed in a shelter far from their school and friends, to trying to do homework in a shelter that offers little privacy or quiet.
One of the most traumatic and daunting experiences for homeless children and families is the application process at PATH – an ordeal that creates stress, frustration, and uncertainty at a time when the family is at its most vulnerable. Disturbingly, on Mayor de Blasio’s watch the eligibility rate for families applying for shelter reached a new low this past July: Just 38 percent of families with children applying for shelter were found eligible. Moreover, 43 percent of these families had to submit more than one application before ultimately being found eligible. It is not uncommon for children to miss a significant amount of school during the application process, which lasts 10 days at minimum – but can go on much longer for families forced to submit multiple applications.
On Wednesday, Coalition for the Homeless and The Legal Aid Society presented testimony before the New York City Council’s Committee on General Welfare and Committee on Education on “Oversight: Support for Homeless Students.” The testimony included recommendations to alleviate the challenges facing homeless students:
It is clear more needs to be done to address the wellbeing and educational needs of homeless students. Specifically, the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Education must:
- Implement a less onerous shelter intake process in which applicants are assisted in obtaining necessary documents and recommended housing alternatives are verified as actually available and pose no risks to the health and safety of applicants;
- Revise the shelter intake process so that homeless children are totally excused from appearing at PATH so that they do not have to miss school in order to be present when the family applies for shelter;
- Place families in shelters near their child’s school at the outset of the application process, to minimize commutes and school transfers and to avoid shelter transfers that may further disrupt schooling;
- Transfer any families that have long school commutes to a closer shelter facility;
- Place additional DOE staff at PATH. These additional staff members should provide families with information on school selection, school transportation options, and the rights of students with special needs. These staff members should also have the ability to process busing requests, assist students and families to fill out DOE Residency Questionnaires, write letters of excused absence, and disseminate Metrocards. DHS staff should also assist with these duties when DOE staff cannot be made available;
- Eliminate or minimize the placement of families with school-aged children in commercial hotels;
- Continue enhanced funding for busing for homeless students; and
- Expand after-school programming for students in shelters.
The best solution to helping homeless students in temporary housing maintain engagement in school is to transition families to permanent housing as quickly as possible. We therefore urge the City to immediately increase access to permanent affordable housing for homeless families. Specifically, the City must double the number of homeless families placed in NYCHA apartments from 1,500 per year to at least 3,000 per year. Only through the provision of sufficient permanent, affordable housing resources can we begin to reduce the number of homeless children and families in New York City.
The full testimony can be read here.