Today the New York City Council’s Committees on General Welfare, Education and Youth Services held a joint hearing to examine educational barriers that homeless students enrolled in New York City public schools face.
According to the State Education Department, there were nearly 65,000 homeless students in New York City during the 2009-2010 school year. The City’s Department of Homeless Services, which uses a more narrow definition of homelessness, places the estimates much lower, at about 16,000 youth at the end of 2010. However, one thing is clear, with the rising tide of homelessness across New York City, these numbers are on the rise and it is likely that this year City schools will educate a record numbers of homeless youth.
Homeless students confront a number of unique barriers in succeeding in school, including difficulties with school enrollment, shelter policies which often make school attendance difficult and a lack of access to efficient and affordable transportation between shelter and school. DOE officials have argued that each school is responsible for creating a plan to meet the needs of homeless youth, yet it is clear that many schools are not appropriately addressing the issues. These difficulties have led to unprecedented drop-out rates, nearing nearly fifty percent for homeless students.
Additionally, the hearing examined ways to improve interagency coordination between the Department of Education, the Department of Youth and Community Development and the Department of Homeless Services to address these issues and to question whether that homeless youth are being properly educated.
“The dual crises in our shelter system and in our schools have made clear that the City’s efforts to meet the needs of homeless students have been inappropriate and largely ineffective,” said Council Member Annabel Palma, Chair of the Committee on General Welfare. “The fact of the matter is, while Mayor Bloomberg touts himself as the ‘Education Mayor’ and speaks of giving poor New Yorkers the tools to achieve upward mobility, many of our City’s most vulnerable youth are not receiving the support needed to ensure they receive a quality education. Hopefully, today’s hearing will start a conversation about how to address this growing issue and ensure that 65,000 children are given access to the education they deserve.”
“The statistics speak for themselves when it comes to rating how this city is addressing the educational needs of our homeless children. These students are often displaced in our education system setting them on the path to failure and dropping out of school. Giving them the nurturing environment, resources and tools necessary to thrive in an academic setting is a social responsibility that falls upon all of us” said Council Member Robert Jackson, Chair of the Committee on Education. “We must find a coordinated approach across agencies to build a safety net for our neediest students. I hope that this hearing will give way to policies that will enable these students to gain access to the opportunity to learn and achieve the academic excellence that they so rightly deserve.”
“Children who are homeless, with or without their family, face burdens and challenges that are unique and daunting,” said Council Member Lewis A. Fidler, Chair of the Committee on Youth Services. “Society has a special obligation to ensure that they are given a helping hand up and it surely behooves us all to give every child the tools necessary for self-sufficiency and success in society.”