Educating Homeless Students: How the City is Failing our Most Vulnerable Young Minds

By all definitions, the number of homeless children reached an all-time high in the last fiscal year, with a record 42,888 children having slept in New York City shelters. On Tuesday, the New York City Council convened a hearing to investigate how the City is helping homeless children gain a proper education.

City agency testimony provided a new perspective on the true scope of the problem. Under the Department of Education’s broad definition of homeless students (which includes both students in shelter and also those that are doubled up or living in other temporary arrangements), the number of homeless students in fiscal year 2010 was 65,921– more than quadruple the number in 2008.

Testimony also made clear the difficulties homeless students face every day in New York. On average, students in shelter miss a month of school each year– more than what is allowed in order for students to advance to the next grade. Additionally, the graduation rate for homeless students is 41% compared with a citywide rate of 61%.

And the Department of Homeless Services is still woefully behind in helping these kids achieve their fullest potential. DHS reported that only about 30 percent of homeless families were placed in a shelter in the school district of their youngest child, forcing many children to change schools or face long, wearying commutes.

Decades of research has shown that homeless kids face significant barriers to school achievement, including health, development, and behavior problems. Studies have consistently shown that homeless children change schools more frequently, repeat grades more often, and report worse school experiences than their housed peers. Additionally, homeless children score lower on achievement tests.

The single best way to address these problems affecting homeless students is to reduce the number of homeless children. The proven way to do this is to return to the successful policies of targeting Federal and City housing resources to help homeless children and families move from shelter to permanent housing.

Read our public testimony here.