How to Help the Record Number of Homeless Students

Tonight, nearly 24,000 children will sleep in New York City shelters. Tomorrow, thousands of them will head to school, where they often struggle to keep up with their stably housed classmates while coping with the trauma of homelessness.

A new report from the New York City Independent Budget Office shows the heartbreaking scale of the homelessness crisis impacting classrooms across the city. IBO’s Liza Pappas writes, “The number of students in the city’s public schools who lived for some part of the school year in New York’s homeless shelters during school year 2015-2016 rose by more than 4,000, or 15 percent, over the preceding year to nearly 33,000.” IBO found that Bronx schools consistently had the largest number of students in shelters over the past five school years, and in 2015-2016 over 40 percent of students in the shelter system attended school in the Bronx. In 45 public schools across the city, at least a tenth of the student population was living in shelters in each of the past five years.

Elizabeth A. Harris covered the rising rate of student homelessness in The New York Times:

The challenge of serving a large number of homeless students is compounded for schools by the small amount of money set aside to help. Last year, the city set aside $10.3 million to support homeless students by hiring social workers, for example, and people to help with student attendance.

But in January, advocates for the homeless were disappointed to find that that money had not been set aside in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s executive budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The city said on Monday that it would restore the $10.3 million, a change that was first reported by Politico. But some wondered if that would be enough.

“The question the city has to answer is whether the allocation to schools is sufficient to get ahead of this problem if the numbers continue to increase, like they have over the past five years,” Ms. Pappas said. “Because it seems like we’re already behind.”

Although additional funds allocated by the City will mitigate some of the educational and emotional barriers homeless students face, the most effective way to assist these students is to help their families move out of shelters and into stable, permanent housing.  The City must employ every available affordable housing resource to reduce the number of children sleeping in shelters each night. To start, it should double the number of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) apartments it allocates for homeless families each year. Please sign our petition to urge Mayor de Blasio to increase the number of public housing placements for homeless families from 1,500 per year to 3,000 per year.