New York City housing and education advocates were joined by students and parents who marched in Sunset Park on Thursday in response to recent data which indicated that for the seventh consecutive year, over 100,000 NYC public school students experienced some form of homelessness.
Data from both the activist group Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), as well as the Department of Education’s (DOE) own recently released figures, indicate that approximately 104,000 NYC Public School students don’t have permanent homes.
Of those 104,000 students, 29,000 students had reported to have spent some time in city shelters, while another 69,000 were temporarily housed with others and about 5,500 were fully unsheltered — living in cars, abandoned buildings or parks.
This alarming news translates to a 3.3% increase in homelessness in student populations from last year, which recorded about 101,000 students experiencing homelessness.
This already concerning situation has been further exacerbated by the influx of migrant families and their children who are entering the NYC public school system, advocates said Thursday.
“Our shelter system is ill equipped, but we already knew that,” said Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes during the rally on Nov. 3. “We knew that when the pandemic hit, and yet we allowed the eviction moratorium to end at the beginning of this year. We have been ringing the alarm for months about what would happen, and on top of that, no one predicted the influx of migrants. But as a government we need to step up and provide housing solutions.”
Advocates have called upon Governor Kathy Hochul as well as NYC Mayor Eric Adams and other City and State officials to intervene and provide permanent and safe housing for unhoused students.
“The fact that more than 100,000 children in New York don’t have a roof over their heads is a policy failure that rests squarely on the shoulders of Eric Adams and Kathy Hochul,” said Cea Weaver, Campaign Coordinator for Housing Justice for All on Thursday. “We know what it takes to keep New Yorkers housed: meaningful protections from eviction and price gouging, and rental assistance to help people at the bottom of the income ladder get access to housing.”
Oftentimes, children without secure and reliable housing struggle in school and are often forced to frequently repeat grades or transfer schools and are at a higher risk of engaging in risky behavior.
“When I entered the shelter system — with a voucher in hand — my son was 17 and I was separated from him because they put him in an adult shelter,” said Charisma White with VOCAL-NY and Neighbors Together. “My son died by an overdose in an SRO from a lethal dose of drugs. Even though I expressed to Mayor Adams that it was unfair that they were separating me from my child, they still pushed him into a single men’s shelter. I lost my son this year because of that. We need to house everybody so that our youth aren’t lost, dead and gone.”
In order to combat this crisis, advocates called for state and city lawmakers to back certain policies like the Housing Access Voucher Program for rental assistance as well as the Good Cause Bill, which would protect tenants from unaffordable rent hikes and unjust eviction.
Studies have shown that students without access to reliable and safe housing are far more likely to struggle in school academically and socially and are often forced to repeat grades or transfer schools due to poor performance or chronic absenteeism.
Additionally, communities with high rates of eviction or homelessness have been linked to lower test scores, poorer attendance, and even a slower pace of instruction overall.
During the 2020-2021 school year in NYC, students residing in shelters or temporary housing dropped out of school at three times the rate of those who had permanent or reliable housing.
Advocate leaders remarked on what support was currently unavailable, including their belief that political and educational leaders were unmotivated to make a significant change.
“What’s missing is political will,” said Weaver. “If we want our students to succeed, we need our leaders to stop caving to the real estate lobby and pass real protections for New York tenants.”
Many of those who have experienced the devastating detrimental effects of housing insecurity while in school were also present at the rally, and spoke to the difficulties of their own experiences.
“At 21 years old, I’ve moved 18 or 19 times,” said Emma Rehac, founding director of Youth Alliance for Housing (YAH). “I’ve felt the deep impact of redlining, of gentrification, of rising rent. I’ve lived in a building with sewage leaks and mold in the walls. I’m here to build the power of young people in the tennants movement. Housing is youth justice, is racial justice, is social justice.”