Number of Homeless Public School Students Tops 101,000 in New York City

Advocates for Children of New York just reported that “more than 101,000 New York City students experienced homelessness in 2020-21.” The NYC public schools serve over a million students, and the number of homeless students is, once again this year, approximately 10 percent of the district’s student population. “Last year marked the sixth consecutive school year that more than 100,000 New York City students experienced homelessness.”

Advocates for Children describes homeless students’ living conditions in New York City: “Last year, as the pandemic raged and most students continued to learn remotely, nearly 28,000 of them did so while living in New York City’s shelters, and approximately 65,000 lived ‘doubled-up’ with friends or family, staying temporarily with others in overcrowded housing.  An additional 3,860 students were unsheltered last year, living in cars, parks, or abandoned buildings. While the total number of students identified as homeless was 9% lower than in 2019-20, some of this decline is likely attributable to the drop in overall public school enrollment (3.3%),  as well as the difficulty schools experienced identifying students whose housing situation changed while they were learning remotely.”

It is hard for most of us to grasp the challenges for a school district struggling to serve such a large group of students experiencing poverty and homelessness.  As we consider the logistical issues, we can better grasp why concentrated poverty is such an enormous barrier to student achievement.  A longer report and set of recommendations for New York City’s Mayor-Elect Eric Adams exposes the implications of student homelessness for academic engagement: “Even before the pandemic, students experiencing homelessness—85% of whom are Black or Hispanic—faced tremendous obstacles to success in school.  For example, in 2019, only 29% of students experiencing homelessness in grades 3-8 were reading proficiently, 20 percentage points lower than the rate for their permanently housed peers, and only 61% of students who were homeless graduated high school in four years, 18 percentage points lower than students who are permanently housed.”

Thirty-nine New York City organizations joined Advocates for Children last week to release a set of recommendations for improving coordination of services for children and adolescents whose families are homeless.  The report begins with the recommendation that Mayor-Elect Adams should pull together an interagency initiative to manage the problem—including the City’s Department of Education, Department of Homeless Services, Human Resources Administration, Department of Youth and Community Development, and the Administration for Children’s Services.

Here is the list of recommendations that follow:

  • “Improve school attendance… During the pandemic, students in shelter had strikingly low attendance, significantly lower than any other group of students…
  • “Increase shelter placements closer to where children attend school. The City places more than 40% of families in a shelter in a different borough from their child’s school. This practice leads to long commutes, unnecessary school transfers, school absences, and barriers to participation in after-school and sports activities…
  • “Revamp city, shelter, and social service agency protocols and policies to take into account the educational needs of children… The average length of stay in shelter spans two school years… The City should… revisit policies that have a harmful impact on children. For example, the lengthy and burdensome shelter eligibility process that can take weeks to complete often results in children missing school and experiencing added instability and trauma…
  • “Bridge the digital divide. During the pandemic, many students in shelter could not access remote learning because their shelters did not have Wi-Fi or sufficient cellular reception for the iPads provided by the Department of Education…. While the City finally installed WiFi in family shelters, the City will need to maintain connectivity and ensure it is sufficient for students to participate in online learning….
  • “Improve access to academic and social-emotional support… For example, as the Department of Education develops plans to use federal COVID-19 relief funding for supplemental programming, the City must prioritize students who are homeless….
  • “Increase access to early childhood education and services… The City should work to increase enrollment among children who are homeless in early childhood education programs, including 3-K, Pre-K, EarlyLearn, Head Start, and preschool special education programs…
  • “Improve access to special education services… Thirty percent of students in shelter have Individualized Education Programs entitling them to special education services…. But research shows that NYC students who are homeless receive IEPs later than permanently housed students, missing out on services during the early years….
  • “Improve language access for families and supports for English Language Learners… The City should ensure that families who are homeless receive school-related documents and information in their primary language and have access to translation and interpretation… (and) ensure that English Language Learners who are homeless get the language instruction and the support they have the right to receive…
  • “Expand opportunities for students who are homeless to participate in after-school and summer programs…  Many students who are homeless attend schools far from where they live, but bus service is available only at the end of the school day—not following after-school programs… In addition, students who switch school mid-year may find that the after-school program at their new school or near their new temporary housing is already fully subscribed. The City should take steps to address these barriers….”

Advocates for Children and the coalition it has assembled emphasize one final recommendation as urgently important: “Ensure every shelter has staff qualified and equipped to support students’ educational needs starting by hiring 150 shelter-based Department of Education community coordinators… Currently there are 117 Department of Education Family Assistants assigned to help families in shelter, a number that has not grown over the past decade even though the number of school-aged children in shelter has increased by thousands of students, and Family Assistants must divide their time between multiple shelter sites. The Family Assistant title is a very low-paying position ($28,000 for 10 months), making it hard to recruit and retain staff who have the skills needed to help families navigate NYC’s complex school system.”

In the nation’s largest school district, there are no quick or easy solutions to managing the needs of 101,000 children whose families lack stable housing.

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2 thoughts on “Number of Homeless Public School Students Tops 101,000 in New York City

  1. Pingback: Build Back Better Would Reduce Economic Injustice Among America’s Children | janresseger

  2. Pingback: Jan Resseger: If Build Back Better Dies, Here Is What’s Lost | Diane Ravitch's blog

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