10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year

By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS | OCTOBER 10, 2017 | NY Times

The number of homeless students in the New York City public school system rose again last year, according to state data expected to be released on Tuesday. The increase pushed the city over a sober milestone: One in every 10 public school students was homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year.

More than 111,500 students in New York City schools were homeless during the last academic year, a 6 percent increase over the year before and enough people to populate a small city. Of the overall figure, 104,000 students attended regular district public schools, while the rest were in charter schools. Statewide, 148,000 students were homeless, or about five percent of the state’s public school population.

The data is to be released by the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students, a project of Advocates for Children of New York funded by the state Education Department.

The plight of homeless students is part of the entrenched and growing problem of homelessness confronting New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is pushing a controversial plan to expand the city’s shelter system.

Not all students who are considered homeless live in shelters. Students in temporary housing includes families living in their cars or in hotels, or those “doubled up” with family or friends. An analysis of the state data, conducted by Coalition for the Homeless, found that families living with relatives or friends drove last year’s increase, with about 4,400 more students living in such situations than the year before. The number of students in shelters increased by roughly 1,900.

The upheaval in the home lives of students in temporary housing often follows them into school. Many of them frequently change schools as they bounce from one temporary living situation to another. Many are placed in shelters far from their original school, which means they must either transfer midyear or commute long distances each day. Many students regularly arrive late or miss days of school altogether.

Those stresses harm their academic performance. A report released this summer by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness found that homeless students passed the state English tests at about half the rate as their peers who had permanent homes. Homeless students who were designated as English Language Learners generally took longer to become proficient in the language. On average, the report found that one-third of homeless students miss the equivalent of a month of school. Students living in homeless shelters had the highest rates of chronic absenteeism, meaning they missed more than 10 percent of school days.

Liz Cohen, chief of staff at the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, said that while most of the city’s homeless policies are aimed at getting people housed, the academic damage can linger long after students find a place to live.

“The data shows that for multiple years after a student becomes housed, they have increased rates of chronic absenteeism and decreased academic performance,” Ms. Cohen said. “That experience stays with them.”

Mr. de Blasio’s administration has made efforts on several fronts to combat the city’s homeless crisis. The administration is revamping the shelter system to try to keep people closer to their home communities, rather than shipping them across the city, a change that would allow children to stay in their local schools. There has also been a push to enroll more homeless students in the city’s pre-K program. And the city’s Education Department now offers bus service to students in kindergarten through sixth grade who are living in the shelter system.

“It’s important to acknowledge what the city has done,” said Randi Levine, policy director of Advocates for Children of New York, which will release the data. “But these numbers show the city should redouble its efforts.” For example, Ms. Levine said the city has hired 43 social workers to work in schools with high concentrations of students in temporary housing. While that is a good step, she said, there are about 150 schools where at least 10 percent of the students live in shelters.

Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, said the Department of Homeless Services and the Education Department “remain focused on addressing the unique needs of students in temporary housing, which is why we’ve worked together to expand dedicated staffing and programming, established a real-time data feed between the agencies to most effectively provide support to families on the verge of and experiencing homelessness.’’

The New York City Council is scheduled to hold a hearing on Wednesday about students in temporary housing and discuss three related bills, one of which would ensure that families receive school information while they are applying for shelter. At the hearing, Liza Pappas, an education policy analyst at the city’s Independent Budget Office, plans to share data on how housing impacts absentee rates.

According to the budget office, 24 percent of permanently housed students were chronically absent in the 2015-16 school year. For students living in shelters, that number was 62 percent.

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