Advocates are pushing for the incoming Eric Adams administration to address the persistent issue with a number of policy changes, including hiring more DOE staff to work directly with students in shelter, who tend to experience a number of challenges that impact their learning compared to their permanently-housed peers.

Adi Talwar

P.S. 280 in the Bronx

During the 2020-2021 school year, as families across the five boroughs struggled to deal with the complications of remote learning and COVID-related classroom closures, more than 100,000 New York City students experienced homelessness—the sixth year in a row the city has surpassed that alarming numeric milestone, a report released Monday found.

Data compiled by Advocates for Children (AFC) found that more than 101,000 kids identified as homeless last school year. The majority of those students, 65,000, lived “doubled up” with friends or family in crowded apartments, another 28,000 spent time in a shelter, while 3,860 children experienced homelessness with no shelter at all, meaning they stayed in cars, parks or abandoned buildings, according to the report.

Last year’s numbers are 9 percent lower than the 2019-2020 school year that preceded it. But the 2020-2021 tally is likely incomplete, advocates warn, since remote learning made it harder for NYC Department of Education (DOE) staff to accurately identify students’ housing situations. The city’s public school enrollment also dropped by 3.3 percent during the same year.

It is a stark increase from a decade ago—a 42 percent uptick from the 2011-2012 school year, AFC says—and comes at a time when children are also seeing longer stays in the city’s shelter system.

Kids experiencing housing instability face a number of educational challenges compared to their permanently-housed peers, advocates say. Those living in homeless shelters in particular, a vast majority of whom are Black and Latino, have higher absentee rates and a lower four-year high school graduation rate than the citywide average.

“No child should be homeless, but while Mayor-elect Adams’ administration makes plans to tackle New York City’s housing and homelessness crisis, they must meet the immediate, daily educational needs of students who are homeless,” Kim Sweet, AFC’s executive director, said in a statement.

The group, along with dozens of other education advocacy organizations, released a series of policy recommendations Monday that they want the incoming Eric Adams administration to implement to address the issue. These include expanding WiFi and digital access for students experiencing homelessness, placing families in shelters closer to their school communities and creating more educational and social-emotional supports for children in the system.

Advocates have also been pushing for the city to hire more shelter staff specifically trained to assist homeless families with children on their educational goals, like helping them enroll in a new school or access special education services, tutoring and after-school programs.

While the DOE currently employs 117 “Family Assistants,” according to AFC, these positions are poorly-paid—just $28,000 for 10 months of work—and assistants are assigned to multiple shelters, stretching their resources, and aren’t available during the summer months. AFC and its partner organizations are pushing for the city to hire at least 150 new, better compensated “DOE Community Coordinators” to more effectively meet the needs of homeless students.

City Limits’ series on family homelessness in New York City is supported by Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York and The Family Homelessness Coalition. City Limits is solely responsible for the content and editorial direction.