Public Advocate Letitia James today released four common sense solutions to a startling report on homeless students she released earlier this month that found that the lack of coordination between the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and an overall lack of funding is seriously failing these at-risk kids.
The report found, for instance, that elementary school students living in homeless shelters have disproportionately high rates of chronic absenteeism and mid-year transfers to different schools. For the school year of 2013-2014, 33.9 percent of students in shelters were reported to be “severely chronically absent”, or absent for more than 20 percent of the school year, compared to 9.9 percent of students in permanent housing.
“Our City has failed to fulfill its promise to provide a quality education to every child, especially our homeless students,” said James, in a press conference on the steps of City Hall. “Homeless students already face great odds in obtaining a quality education and instead of providing them with greater chances at success, we are denying them and their families the ability to thrive. We must do better to ensure that every school has the resources needed to provide for our most vulnerable students.”
James’ solutions include first increasing the level of coordination and communication between the DOE and the DHS, so that they can properly keep track of homeless students as they transfer from school to school, or from shelter to shelter. Secondly, to allocate additional funding towards schools with high percentages of homeless students. Third, provide per pupil funding for schools that enroll students past the usual deadline of October 31. And finally, hire additional social workers and family assistants in all the boroughs.
She was accompanied by Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless; Stephanie Gendell, associate executive director at the Citizens’ Committee for Children; and David Kirkland, executive director of NYU’s Metro Center.
“We are here today because a basic tenet of our city and country is that all children deserve a high-quality education,” said James. “In New York, almost all of our homeless students are being denied this opportunity.”
The report also stated that the public schools with the most homeless students tended to receive the least funding from the DOE and the DHS.
“Study after study showed the painful impact of homelessness on children’s development and education,” said Routhier. “Missing school and falling behind academically are all too common problems for the 30,000 homeless students that spend every night in a shelter.”
In addition to citing statistics from her report, James shared a couple of personal anecdotes and testimonies from homeless families, to further illustrate the homeless student’s plight, and the DOE’s insufficient efforts to alleviate it. She spoke of a homeless mother named “Yolanda”, whose 11-year-old child is paraplegic. The child’s school is six blocks away – too far for Yolanda to push her every day, but too close for bus service. By James’ account, the DOE never called the family to offer any sort of assistance.
“The lack of resources has a very real impact on homeless children,” said James. “Because of the DOE’s neglect, Yolanda’s child simply does not have the ability to get to school.”
Kirkland claimed that the root of the problem is one inherent in the public school system – though that doesn’t mean that the problem is insurmountable.
“Unfortunately, school systems are not designed for students who live in precarious housing situations,” said Kirkland. “However, we can begin to design with common sense recommendations, educational opportunities, and inputs, access points for such students.”