More than 1 in 8 in city public schools affected during recent five-year period
BY MADELEINE THOMPSON
The number of students in New York City public schools who experienced homelessness between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 school years is larger than the size of the Boston and Seattle school systems combined. A 2016 study by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness found that 127,000 of the city's 1.1 million public school students have been homeless at some point during those five years. These students, which research shows are at a much higher risk for mid-year transfers and chronic absenteeism, are often concentrated in one or two schools in each district, and in some districts much more than others.
The institute's recently released interactive map showed that the Upper West Side's P.S. 165 Robert E. Simon and Bloomingdale schools have the highest percentages of homeless students, with 23.1 and 22.4 percent, respectively. Liberty High School Academy for Newcomers in Chelsea is the only other school in the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, Chelsea and Lower Manhattan neighborhoods with a student body that is more than 20 percent homeless.
Although the number of homeless students dropped somewhat from just over 84,000 during the 2013–14 school year to roughly 82,500 in 2014–15, there was a 22 percent overall increase in homeless students during the five-year period traced by the institute.
Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side, as smaller neighborhoods, have fewer schools and fewer homeless students. Jennifer Erb-Downward, the institute's principal policy analyst, also noted that the generally higher-earning makeup of those four areas likely contributes to their smaller concentration of homeless students. “What I think is important to think about, too, is while School District Two has a low percent of students who are homeless, it actually has a very large number of students who are homeless,” she said. District Two stretches from the tip of Manhattan to 100th Street, excluding the Upper West and Lower East Sides.
Chronic absenteeism — defined as missing 20 or more days of school — and multiple school transfers are crucial barriers homeless students face that many of their peers do not. “Once you have high school students who were chronically absent at some point during school, only 20 percent of them were graduating,” Erb-Downward said of her research. “Homeless students are two times more likely to transfer schools, and every school transfer has been estimated to set a child back up to six months academically.”
Heidi Burkhart, a philanthropist and founder of the Dane Real Estate affordable housing firm, sees these challenges in the youth she works with at the nonprofit Covenant House. “I think the biggest difference [between housed and homeless students] is the support system and people that can mentor them.”
According to Politico, which earlier this month analyzed data about homeless students, the city recently added 360 new bus routes to ease the often long commutes students face. Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration last year announced $30 million to support such programs as health centers and literacy coaches, but $10 million of it was absent from the most recent budget.
In a statement to Our Town, Toya Holness, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said homeless students and those in temporary housing “are among our most vulnerable populations.” She said the department was coordinating with other city agencies for resources.
In de Blasio's 128-page plan to fight homelessness, which he unveiled last week, homeless students are mentioned once in reference to the $30 million he pledged last year.