With the number of homeless children in New York City a startling 76,816 in the 2012-13 school year from 68,371 in the previous year, according to the Independent Budget Office, shelters are now housing more children than adults.
The statistics, released by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness (ICPH) Wednesday, have generated equal parts concern for homeless children’s mental wellness now and in the future and the economic costs for the state related to their low ability to succeed in school.
Director of the ICPH Dona Anderson explained to the Observer the source of the issue. “While the economy is improving, it is not improving across the board. We’ve found that people are staying in shelters for much longer time periods – when it used to be about 3-6 months, it’s now, on average, well over a year.”
Temporary living situations for homeless students moving around between shelters, doubling up in others’ houses and sleeping on the street means that 22% of homeless children will transfer schools at least once and these students miss, on average, over one month of school annually, according to a report from the ICPH.
Furthermore, the state must pay, on average, an extra $21,000 annually per student that is held back in order to put the child through the same grade again. Consequently, graduation rates for homeless students are significantly lower than the average.
Ms. Anderson suggests the best solution may start before these children even enter kindergarten. “The recent expansion of Universal Pre-K (UPK) is one effective way to reach young homeless kids and give them earlier access to resources.”
Continuing to stress the importance of this type of action she added, “Investments in programs for improving education are essentially investments in the future viability of this city. These children are the ones who are going to work here, become parents here and generate tax revenue.”