There were 100,000 homeless students in New York City public schools during the 2015-16 school year, a number equal to the population of Albany.
The daunting challenges that creates, both for individual children struggling to learn and for schools trying to improve performance, are laid out in a report to be released on Wednesday by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness. If current trends continue, the report’s authors say, one in every seven New York City public school students will be homeless at some point during elementary school.
“In every school classroom, that’s two or three kids,” said Anna Shaw-Amoah, principal policy analyst at the institute. “And the challenges are not just about whether you’re currently living in a shelter or a doubled up setting, but did they have that experience last year, or did they have this experience in kindergarten? The instability really travels with students. If you fall behind in one year, it’s going to be harder to get on grade level the next year.”
Within the last six years, more than 140,000 New York City students have been homeless, the report said.
The growing number of homeless children is part of the fallout of the city’s housing crisis, which has seen a growing number of families in city shelters, as rents have risen, federal and state aid has dwindled, and a state rental assistance program ended. The de Blasio administration has struggled to slow the rising numbers, but with little success.
Homelessness is difficult under any circumstances, but for children, the stress and physical dislocation can be like a tornado dropped into the school day. Students bounce from school to school as their family leaves home, perhaps staying with friends, before entering the shelter system, where they are often moved from place to place. Getting children to school each day becomes an enormous challenge, especially if families have recently moved across the city.
The typical homeless elementary school student missed 88 days of school, according to the report, which is almost half of a school year.
Families who have lost their home must make the wrenching choice of leaving a child in a school they know, or transferring them to a school closer to where they are staying. Moving to a new school may further the feeling of dislocation, but it makes it easier for the child to get to class. The report found that the typical homeless child transferred schools midyear at least two times during elementary school.
Homeless children were more likely than those with stable housing to be on the wrong side of a huge array of indicators. They were more likely to to be suspended or drop out, more likely to face delays in being identified as needing special education services, and more likely to need services to help them learn English. Their proficiency rates on the state math and English exams for third through eighth graders were about 20 points lower than classmates’. And homeless students graduated at a rate of just 55 percent, while students with stable housing graduated at a rate of 74 percent.
One in every six students identified as still learning English was classified as homeless, according to the report. Most of them were doubled up. Children learning English who were homeless were more likely to need services longer than their peers with a stable place to live.
The institute relied on the city’s data for its report. The definition used by the city for homelessness includes any child in “temporary housing” at some point during the school year. This can mean a student whose family is living in its car or in a motel, staying with extended family or friends, or living in shelters. The number of students in shelters during the 2015-16 school year was 33,000, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.
“We recognize students in temporary housing face additional challenges and are providing more resources,” Toya Holness, a spokeswoman for the city’s education department, said in an email. She cited bus services for students in kindergarten through sixth grade who live in shelters, and said the city has hired more social workers in schools with large numbers of homeless students.
The city has also made a push to register more homeless students for pre-K, an effort the report found to be working — the institute found a 17 percent increase in pre-K enrollment among homeless children from the 2014-15 school year to the 2015-16 school year. More broadly, the de Blasio administration has announced a plan to open 90 new shelters to replace a makeshift network of hotels and temporary apartments scattered across the city.
Another crucial point in the report is how homeless students are distributed among the city’s schools, with some schools and districts seeing intense concentrations, while others bear a relatively light burden. In Bayside, Queens, 823 students were homeless in the 2015-16 school year, while in District 10 in the Bronx, which includes neighborhoods like Fordham and Belmont, more than 10,000 students did not have a stable place to live.