Homeless Students

I usually write about adults here since that is my experience and expertise. But this is too impactful an issue here in the city – and certainly relates to adult learners, as their parents are unlikely to succeed without further education – to just consign to those who focus on K-12 students. As the Times wrote yesterday, about 10% of NYC public school students are homeless.

The word homeless conjures up images of mentally ill men and women (but mostly men) on subways and street corners, and surely these individuals deserve our care and empathy rather than the scorn they usually receive. But the vast majority of New York’s homeless are in shelters or “doubled-up,” living with two or more families in a home built for one. It’s particularly prevalent in certain parts of the city, and the funding is just not there, as these students and their families struggle in plain sight.

The city first earmarked $10.3 million for homeless students in 2016, and increased spending on social workers and other services for homeless students to $13.9 million last year, with the City Council pitching in about another $2 million from its own budget. For perspective, the Department of Education’s total budget for the current school year is $32.3 billion.

The amount set aside for services pays for about 70 social workers — or roughly one social worker for every 1,660 homeless students. The funding also pays for more after-school programs and additional staff to help homeless families apply to schools.

In addition, the city started to send students in kindergarten through sixth grade who were living in homeless shelters to school by bus in 2016.

But the mayor left that funding out of the city’s preliminary budget for the last two years, only to plug it back in the final budget, in a process critics call the budget dance.

Richard A. Carranza, the New York City schools chancellor, recently said he was startled by the lack in lines of support for homeless students when he took over the country’s largest public school system in the spring.

He found himself asking, “‘Who owns that issue?’” he recalled in an August interview with The Times. “It was in three different departments,” Mr. Carranza added.

On Sunday, Mr. Carranza said the issue of students living in temporary housing was “deeply important” to him.

Unfortunately, nothing is really being done. These students and their families need specific and dedicated support, but, as the article suggests, it’s not exactly a high priority when the city isn’t even sure which department to pass the buck to.

The lives of public school students are stressful  and challenging enough without the added strain of homelessness and/or shelter living. And the shelter system itself is overburdened beyond recognition, even without considering the education of the children within it.