The opening line from this article in The New York Times is a chilling one:
“Tonight, about one out of every 10 students in New York City will sleep in a homeless shelter or in the homes of relatives,” wrote staff writer Eliza Shapiro.
114,659 students are either homeless or in insecure housing. Their families live in cars, couch surf among friends and relatives, stay in temporary housing, or spend time in homeless shelters. The number of homeless youth in New York City is the highest since the city started keeping records. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the building crisis when he took office in 2014, but the funds designated to address the issue haven’t been increased since then.
Homeless students have always attended public schools. With percentages like this, schools are finally working on ways to help them and support their families. New York schools, like some others in the nation, are offering food pantries, laundry facilities, transportation, and coordination for aid services. School staff, including teachers, have paid for taxi rides and new clothes, pencils and binders, and lunch.
In 2016, a program was designed to ensure bus service to every homeless shelter that accepts children under 12, but it has been delayed due to budget waffling since then. Families often cannot choose which shelter they stay in, meaning many children wind up far across the city from their school with few options for transportation.
New York City’s Department of Education has a $16 million budget for homeless youth, which currently means less than $140 per student. This has to stretch to cover social workers, the aforementioned school accommodations (when they aren’t paid for out of the teachers’ pockets), and the other needs caused by insecure housing, and it simply isn’t enough, especially as the number of students in need rises every year.
One in 10 students across the entire city are experiencing homelessness. In some schools, 30 or 40 percent of New York City students cannot predict where they’ll sleep tonight—and this is going on in what is arguably the philanthropic center of the United States.
Is your school or school district doing anything to help homeless students? Please comment about what’s being done in your area and how it’s been working.