While battling the threat of COVID-19, 28,000 New York City kids slept in homeless shelters during the last school year. More than 65,000 “doubled-up” after losing their homes, and more than 3,800 lived “unsheltered” — in cars, parks or abandoned buildings.
These are the findings of a report released Monday by Advocates for Children of New York, an organization providing free legal and advocacy services to thousands of families. In its review of New York State Education Department and public charter school data, the group found that all told, more than 101,000 New York City students were identified as homeless during the 2020-21 academic year.
“It’s an alarming number, it really is a crisis with families, there are so many children and youth who don’t have a permanent home,” said Jennifer Pringle, who directs the Learners in Temporary Housing Project for Advocates for Children of New York. “If we want to break the cycle of homelessness we have to make sure that children and youth experiencing homelessness get the support that they need.”
The group found the number of students living in temporary housing was 9% lower last school year compared with the previous year. But that could be an undercount due to the schools’ hindered ability to identify homeless students as they logged in from remote locations during the pandemic.
Still, the number of homeless school-age children in New York City this year represents a 42% increase in the past decade.
Organizations serving youth and families within the city’s five boroughs are calling on the incoming mayor, Eric Adams, to address the student homelessness crisis early in his tenure. Proposals include increasing the number of shelter placements closer to where children attend school, and more than doubling the number of “community coordinators” at shelters — staff who focus specifically on kids’ educational needs.
The New York City Department of Education and representatives of Adams’ mayoral campaign did not respond to The Imprint’s request for comment on the report and its findings before this article was set to publish.
The housing crisis for children disproportionately affects students of color; 94% of families in New York City shelters are either Black or Latino.
New York City’s homeless students are concentrated in the Bronx, upper Manhattan and central Brooklyn. There are stark contrasts depending on the city district. Monday’s report found that while roughly 1 in 30 students attending school on Staten Island experienced homelessness last year, that number was more than 1 in 5 students in District 9 in the Bronx. Roughly 1 in 7 Bronx students experienced homelessness.
According to a Department of Homeless Services report released this fall, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a decline in family shelter entries, due in part to the temporary suspension of evictions. Families in shelters have access to licensed social workers for behavioral health assessments, developmental screenings, and help addressing barriers to permanent housing.
Beginning in 2022, the responsibility to oversee these shelters will fall to Mayor-elect Adams.
City organizations such as Alliance for Quality Education and Coalition for The Homeless have numerous recommendations they hope he will deploy to combat student homelessness.
Advocates want families placed in shelters that are closer to their children’s schools, or at the very least, allow them to transfer to closer shelters as soon as beds become available.
“No child in New York City should be homeless,” the report stated. “While the next Administration works to tackle the homelessness crisis, it must also focus immediate attention and resources on the education of students who are homeless.”
According to the city’s Department of Homeless Services report, more than 40% of families in shelters are placed in a different borough from where their youngest child attends school, leading to longer commutes and school absences.
Pringle said city kids sometimes have to get on the bus as early as 5:30 a.m. to get to school from the shelter where their family is staying. “It’s setting parents and kids up to fail.”
Community groups are also calling on New York City’s Department of Education to hire 150 shelter-based community coordinators to “proactively assist families with getting school placements, bus service, or special education services.” Currently there are 117 shelter-based community coordinators, which has not increased over the last decade, despite the growth in the number of children living in shelters, the report states.
Its authors also recommend that these coordinators be better compensated for their work. The current wage of a community coordinator is $28,000 a year for a 10-month contract, leaving most to vacate the position because of inadequate pay. Most coordinators also have to split their time between multiple shelters and can’t assist every family effectively, the report found.
To combat this, “there needs to be someone at the shelter who can help families better navigate,” Pringle said, “and make sure that their students are getting the services they need.”