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10 Percent of All NYC Students Are Homeless During School Year, Study Says

By Amy Zimmer | October 11, 2017 2:52pm
 A new hotel in Jamaica used by the city to house homeless families.
A new hotel in Jamaica used by the city to house homeless families.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

MANHATTAN — The number of homeless students in city schools is on the rise, and chronic absenteeism remains a major challenge for these children, according to a new report issued Tuesday.

One out of every 10 New York City students were identified as homeless last school year — a 5 percent increase from the previous year, according to a recent analysis by the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students, a project of Advocates for Children.

Department of Education statistics showed that more than 105,000 students spent some part of the past school year in temporary housing, according to an analysis from the Independent Budget Office.

“The number of children and youth experiencing homelessness in NYC is twice the size of the entire Boston public school system,” Kim Sweet, Advocates for Children’s executive director said in a statement.

Students who spent at least part of the school year in the shelter system had average daily school attendance rates well below those of students in permanent housing or even those doubled-up in the homes of friends or relatives, Liza Pappas, an education policy analyst at the New York City Independent Budget Office, said Wednesday in testimony to City Council.

While their rates of chronic absenteeism — which the DOE defines as missing 18 or more school days — inched down in the 2015-2016 school year, 62 percent of homeless students were chronically absent.

That was more than twice the rate for students in permanent housing or doubled-up, Pappas noted.

“For students and their families living in the shelter system, just getting to school often proved daunting as they faced long commutes and other transportation difficulties, competing demands on their time from other city agencies, along with the transitory nature and stress of life in a shelter,” Pappas said.

As of this Monday, 60,089 people were living in city shelters, according to the NYC Department of Homeless Services daily report. Of those, 22,964 were children.

The city has taken some steps to address the growing number of homeless students, including offering yellow bus service to kindergarten through sixth grade students living in shelters, at an estimated cost of $24 million, she pointed out.

As part of the program, the DOE created more than 270 new bus routes this year serving shelters and commercial hotels throughout the five boroughs, school officials said.

READ MORE: Homeless Placed in New Hotel Sites Despite City's Pledge to Phase Them Out

There are more-than 100 DOE liaisons stationed inside shelters, officials noted.

This year, for the second year in a row, the city allocated $10.3 million for educational supports for students living in the shelter system, including hiring more than 30 social workers for schools with high populations of students living in shelters and increasing pre-K enrollment among children living in shelters.

This funding also helped expand the DOE's Afterschool Reading Club to promote literacy and enabled it to offer more school-based health services.

“Now, we urge the city to expand the number of DOE social workers for students in temporary housing, ensure high-level leadership on this issue, and devote the resources needed to address the significant challenges faced by the rising number of students who are homeless,” Sweet said.

At the start of the school year last month, there were roughly 15,000 school-age children in city-run shelters, according to the Department of Homeless Services officials, who pointed out that the city's homeless population increased by 115 percent from 2004 to 2014.

Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration released a borough-by-borough plan for addressing homelessness, which prioritizes giving homeless New Yorkers the opportunity to be sheltered closer to their communities and support networks — including schools — to more quickly stabilize their lives.

The DOE and DHS remain focused on addressing the needs of students in temporary housing, said mayoral spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg.

"[That 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," she said in a statement, "and released a plan earlier this year that puts people—and students—first by offering those families the opportunity to remain close to their communities and schools, as they get back on their feet."