For homeless students in New York City, challenges abound

Credit: Chinnapong/Shutterstock.
Credit: Chinnapong/Shutterstock.

.- As rent prices increase in New York City, so does its homeless population, affecting not only adults throughout the city but children as well.  

Roughly 1 out of 10 public school students in New York City are homeless, and these children often face significant challenges in completing their education.

According to a report from the state Education Department’s Student Information Repository System, a record high of 114, 659 students in the city’s public schools are homeless. The number has increased by 66 percent since 2010.

Brett Hartford, outreach director for New York City Relief, pointed to two major factors contributing to an increase in homelessness. First, the cheap areas of rent have turned into trendy spots, and rent prices have become astronomical. Second, he said, a rent voucher system was dropped by city about 10 years ago.

Under the policy, vouchers were given to individuals who had some source of income but did not have enough to cover rent. Subsidizing homes would then give these people a place to stay in exchange for the voucher, which the city would reimburse.

When the city no longer honored the vouchers, the subsidizing organizations stopped getting paid and lost out on millions. Although the system has been reinstituted since, he said, those companies no longer trust the vouchers will be honored and very few accept them.

Hartford told CNA that the city has laws to help individuals who have been evicted from their homes, but these policies often create situations that can be disruptive for schooling.

If families do not have anywhere to stay, the government will temporarily place them somewhere in New York City, he said, explaining that families may be moved across the city, sometimes a two-hour train ride away from their previous life.

This puts immense wear-and-tear on families, who may have difficulty traveling to work and school, he said.

Furthermore, the housing in which families are placed is often not ideal, with shared bathrooms and no secure place to lock up personal items. Once a family is assigned somewhere, Hartford said, they cannot apply for another location until a year later.

Amy Lacey, director of emergency services for Albany Catholic Charities, described to CNA the challenges facing homeless students.

When someone does not have a stable place to live, she explained, survival becomes the only goal.

“When an individual is homeless, that is the primary concern. It’s not whether the child gets up and goes to school, it’s let me make sure I have a roof over my head,” she said.

“They need to know that each day they are going to have a place to come home to, have a place to lay their head, have a place to come back to where someone is going to care for them.”

Lacey also said access to bus routes or public transportation may not always be an option, especially for chronically homeless families.

“Sometimes we have people who come into shelter who are not even at their own school district anymore.”

According to the New York Times, homeless children on average miss about 30 days of school a year. Of those living in the NYC shelters during the 2015-16 school year, only 12 percent passed the math exam for the state and 15 percent passed English.

Catholic Charities helps with the physical needs of homeless people in the Albany area – offering shelter, food, hygiene products and baby supplies – but also works through case managers to discuss education with parents.

“Having that case management for every homeless case is very important,” Lacey said. “That is someone who can sit down with a parent, sit down with a child, and say ‘where are your struggles right now?’”

“We deal with families who often time have multiple children and sometimes it is the responsibility of the oldest child to care for the youngest children,” she said, noting school for those children may be placed on the back burner. “So it is helping to change that mindset.”

She said the greatest need of young homeless people is someone to guide them and show concern. This begins with personal relationships, she said, adding that it is time and interest that truly help children improve and develop.

“What is really needed is individuals need to be able to step into the young person’s life, whether that is a guidance counselor, a teacher, a mentor, to let that child know that they are valuable, that they are worthy, and that they are intelligent.”

Tags: Catholic News, Homelessness, Students, School