The number of homeless students in the New York City public school system unexpectedly jumped 20% in just one year, reaching close to 100,000 in in the 2015-16 school year. This number also represents a nearly 50% increase in student homelessness since the 2010-2011 school year.
Should the current trend continue, one in every seven children in the New York City public school system will experience homelessness by the time they enter the fifth grade.
Within the last six years, more than 140,000 children attending New York City public school have experienced homelessness. Together, these children would form a city larger than Syracuse, New York.
The growing number of homeless school children in New York City has been blamed in part on the city’s housing crisis. A larger number of families are living in city shelters in the face of rising rents, dwindling federal and state aid, and the termination of a state rental assistance program.
Not having a stable place to live means elementary school students are bounced from school to school as families move around, staying with friends and family before moving into a shelter. This makes it extremely difficult for children to get to school each day. Last year, the typical homeless elementary school student in New York City missed 88 days of school–roughly half the school year.
But as the study points out, homelessness is more than a lack of housing. In addition to struggling with a place to sleep, the more-than-140,000 students in New York City that have been homeless also struggle at school, succeeding academically, and accessing support for their additional educational and behavioral needs.
To improve the academic achievement of homeless and formerly homeless students in New York City, it will take more than addressing where they live. It will entail understanding more about their experiences in school and providing unique support needs.
Homeless children face a lot of anxiety and stress on a daily basis, as do children that are in temporary housing. A lot of children in temporary housing, living with a relative or family friend, fall through the cracks, as they are not seen as being strictly homeless, even though they are.
For example, a child may not have any furniture at home or a desk where they are living. Or their parent may get into a fight with a relative and get kicked out.
Tackling the homeless issue among school-aged children in New York City will also help improve graduation rates. As it stands, graduation patterns of homeless students are similar to their dropout rates.
Homeless students who were habitually absent during high school graduated at a higher rate than the citywide average (74%-94% to 73% citywide), while homeless students who were chronically absent at some point graduated at roughly one-third to one-fourth the rate of their homeless peers (23%-26%).
Preventing chronic absenteeism among all homeless students, including those who are living in shelters and temporary settings, is imperative to further improving their academic success and closing the graduation gap.
“On the Map: The Atlas of Student Homelessness in New York City 2017,” Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, August 16, 2017.