Lawmakers, parents and students march in Brooklyn to demand permanent housing for homeless students

Housing and education advocates in New York City were joined by students and parents who marched in Sunset Park on Thursday in response to the latest data showing that for the seventh year in a row, more than 100,000 New York City public school students experienced some form of another form of homelessness.

Figures from both the advocacy group Advocates for Children of New York (AFC) and the Department of Education’s (DOE) own data recently released show that approximately 104,000 New York public school students are homeless.

Of those 104,000 students, 29,000 students reported spending some time in city shelters, while another 69,000 were temporarily housed with others and about 5,500 were completely unsheltered — living in cars, abandoned buildings or parks.

The alarming news represents a 3.3% increase in student homelessness compared to last year, which saw an estimated 101,000 students experiencing homelessness.

This already troubled situation has been further exacerbated by the influx of migrant families and their children enrolling in the New York public school system, rights advocates said Thursday.

“Our shelter system is ill-equipped, but we already knew that,” Assemblywoman Marcela Mitain said during the Nov. 3 rally.. “We knew this when the pandemic started, and yet we allowed the eviction moratorium to end earlier this year. For months we raised the alarm about what was to come, and besides, no one predicted the influx of migrants. But as a government we must step up and provide housing solutions.”

Advocates have called on Gov. Kathy Hachul, as well as New York City Mayor Eric Adams and other city and state officials to step in and provide permanent and safe housing for the unaccompanied students.

“The fact that more than 100,000 children in New York City are homeless is a policy failure that rests squarely on the shoulders of Eric Adams and Kathy Hachul,” said Sy Weaver, coordinator of the Housing Fairness for All campaign » on Thursday. “We know what it takes to keep New Yorkers in their homes: meaningful protections from evictions and price increases, and rental assistance to help low-income people access housing.”

Often, children who do not have safe and secure housing struggle in school and are forced to repeat grades or transfer schools frequently, and are at greater risk for risky behavior.

“When I got into the shelter system — voucher in hand — my son was 17 and I was separated from him because they put him in an adult shelter,” said Charisma White of VOCAL-NY and Neighbors Together. “My son died of an overdose in SRO from a lethal dose of drugs. Even though I told Mayor Adams that it wasn’t fair that they were separating me from my child, they still put him in a shelter for single men. I lost my son this year because of it. All must be given so that our youth do not disappear, die and disappear.”

To combat this crisis, advocates have called on state and city lawmakers to support certain policies, such as the Affordable Housing Voucher Program for rental housing, and the Good Business Act, which would protect renters from unaffordable rent increases and unfair evictions.

Research has shown that students who do not have access to safe and secure housing are significantly more likely to experience academic and social difficulties in school 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 slower learning rates overall.
During the 2020-2021 school year in New York City, students living in shelters or temporary housing dropped out of school at three times the rate of those who had permanent or secure housing.

Human rights leaders have noted that support is currently lacking, including their belief that political and educational leaders are not motivated to make significant changes.

“What’s lacking is the political will,” Weaver said. “If we want our students to succeed, we need our leaders to stop pandering to the real estate lobby and embrace real protections for New York City renters.”

Many of those who experienced the devastating effects of homelessness while at school also attended the rally and spoke about the hardships of their own experiences.

“I’ve moved 18 or 19 times in my 21st year,” said Emma Rehak, founding director of the Youth Alliance for Housing (YAH). “I felt the profound impact of redlining, gentrification, rising rents. I lived in a house with leaking sewers and mold on the walls. I am here to empower young people in the tenant movement. Housing is youth justice, it’s racial justice, it’s social justice.”

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