Common sense and studies agree: If there’s one thing students need in order to succeed, it’s a stable home life. But for 114,085 New York City public schoolchildren — about 10 percent of the total — such an environment is impossible to achieve. That’s because they’re homeless.
Until this year, the number of homeless students in the public school system had been steadily increasing since the 2014-15 academic year, according to Advocates for Children, the group reporting the numbers based on state data. Last year it peaked at 114,659. We can only hope this year’s minimal decrease turns out to be more than the blip it appears to be and starts a trend.
These numbers demonstrate in a tragic way how difficult it is for the city to focus on the basics when it comes to the schools. The time that educators have to spend as social workers and crisis counselors cannot go toward teaching the three Rs. And that can be harmful to all students, those with homes and those without.
Homelessness obviously can have a major impact on a child’s performance. According to AFC, 29 percent of homeless students passed state reading exams, and 27 percent passed the math tests — about 20 percentage points below other kids. And 57 percent of them graduate high school, compared to 76 percent overall.
The city is trying to cope with the problem, but is overwhelmed by the overall homeless crisis. According to the education publication Chalkbeat, the Department of Education plans to spend $12 million more this year on new supports for homeless students, including the hiring of new coordinators and social workers to help homeless students and more training for educators. Mayor de Blasio reportedly had cut the funding for new social workers in his first budget plan but it was restored under pressure from other officials and advocates. The administration has to understand what an important component of the homeless crisis this is.
With homelessness not ebbing, maybe a program like Home Stability Support, the brainchild of Forest Hills Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, should be given a chance. It’s designed to keep families from becoming homeless in the first place. It’s easy to think one more program won’t do what so many others have failed to do, but with numbers like these, what do we have to lose? We can’t continue to have one in 10 students living in a shelter or in someone else’s home. This crisis must be better addressed somehow.