Since last year, over 114,000 New York City public school students have continued to struggle with homelessness, and nearly 38,000 live in shelters. Recent reports by the Advocates for Children of New York show that this number has gone down by not even 600 students. For the remaining students that continue to struggle with homelessness, one thing remains certain: the city continues to fail them. After recent failures to deal with this issue in both the public and the private sector, we must begin to truly address the crisis and give these students the resources and support they deserve.
The number of students experiencing homelessness has increased every year since the 2009-2010 school year, with the exception of this year’s numbers. This crisis occurs as the city tries — and fails — to deal with the growing issue of homelessness. Under the leadership of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, 90 new shelters have been built — a plan that has been described by advocates as “embarrassingly unambitious” in terms of meeting the needs of the city’s homeless. The mayor received an F from the Coalition for the Homeless in their recent evaluation of the mayor’s policies, specifically citing the lack of available housing. Despite prioritizing affordable housing, de Blasio’s plan has failed to be enough, especially for those most in need. In addition to falling short in volume, some of de Blasio’s policies towards the homeless have been blatantly problematic: New York City has sent over 12,000 people experiencing homelessness on one-way bus rides to live in other cities. By doing this, de Blasio is literally trying to eliminate the problem without actually doing anything to help. In light of the recent quadruple-homicide in Chinatown, the mayor’s actions — or lack thereof — are even more troubling.
Instead of helping them, de Blasio has decided to remove people struggling in the city altogether. Out of sight, out of mind.
Not only has de Blasio failed to provide the necessary amount of homes for those in need, he has also failed to provide schools with the necessary resources to help their young children. As reported by the New York Times in 2018, there is only one social worker for every 1,660 students experiencing homelessness — at just under 70 social workers in total. Since this report, the mayor has increased the number to 100, which means that there are still over 1,140 homeless students per social worker in New York City public schools. The mayor’s actions continue to fall short of what the situation demands, which is one of the central issues behind the crisis.
With that said, the mayor’s actions haven’t been all bad. Advocates for Children of New York recognizes that de Blasio has had some success in fighting the problem and he hasn’t completely ignored the issue, especially with the appointment of Deputy Chancellor of School Climate and Wellness LaShawn Robinson and the minimal increase in social workers. Nevertheless, activists are clear: de Blasio is not doing enough.
The blame is not entirely on the mayor. While his power can’t be understated, the New York Times notes that the issue “has not received much help from local philanthropists” despite the city being “arguably the philanthropic center of the world.” The mayor has addressed this issue directly, saying that despite a lack of previous support, there is now a greater focus on the issue, which he hopes will translate to more aid. Homeless advocates and students experiencing homelessness hope he’s right.
Beyond the mayor or the city’s richest, the crisis will not end until New Yorkers change the way we treat the homeless. In Queens, there was a protest by local residents against the development of a 200-bed homeless shelter. Instead of being hostile toward those struggling, New Yorkers must act with a greater degree of kindness and respect.
The most recent data on students experiencing homelessness show that the crisis persists and what is currently being done simply isn’t enough. Beyond providing the necessary support through available housing and social workers, instead of failing to provide them or simply sending the homeless away, the city government must right the wrongs of their past failures. The city’s most vulnerable children are depending on it.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 4, 2019 print edition. Email Cole Stallone at [email protected]