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Homeless Youth in NYC

Homelessness among students in New York and its effect on Educational Outcomes

The Empire state is not all glamour and rosy after all. For a city so revered by outsiders, the population of homeless people is bewildering.



Data from the coalition for the homeless website states that about 63,495 people live in shelters for the homeless administered by the Department of Homeless Services. A sizable number also reside in other public and private shelters across the state.  Perhaps more importantly, however, is the number of people that are homeless in every sense of homeless. This number is often underestimated and there is a worrying skew towards youth and school children.


New York holds the unenviable record of having the second highest number of homeless students in the United States. A survey carried out by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness (ICPH) in the 2013-2014 school year revealed that about 5% (116,700) of the total enrolment was homeless, with some districts having as much as 20% of their students homeless. The effect of homelessness on educational outcomes has long been under scrutiny and every day, more evidence revealing the detrimental effects of homelessness on educational outcomes emerge.


Homeless students are constantly faced with academic challenges. The emotional struggles that come with having to balance the rigors of learning with not having a conducive place to rest their heads are enough to crumble anyone. In addition to this, you would be surprised at how mundane problems such as incorrect classroom placement and absence of medical records may arise from lack of proper school records that is a common occurrence among the homeless.


Homelessness is also accompanied by instability. Homeless youths are guilty of frequently changing schools and being unable to keep up with regular attendance. Statistics show that 12% of homeless youth miss at least one month of classes and as much as 45% have messy attendance records. This makes it difficult for educators to correctly identify their learning styles and needs. On the part of the students, learning becomes more difficult. The awkwardness that comes with being the new guy travels with them everywhere as every new start comes with new challenges.


Furthermore, learning challenges that confront homeless students are much more difficult to surmount. Educators have the arduous task of determining if the challenge is truly academical in nature or is only arising as a result of the unstable social background. The frequent mobility on its own can increase anxiety and have negative impacts n academic performance. Even if the problem confronting such youth is more of academic in origin, educators have to solve the obvious social and emotional challenges before any other intervention can be made. Sadly, a solution to this is often beyond them. 


The ICPH also reports that grants that homeless students may find it difficult to get access to grants that are normally available for educationally disadvantaged students. For example, additional support services are provided for students with disability and limited English proficiency but many homeless students that fall into the category do not have access to them. This is particularly worrying as they are actually the ones that need the support most.

How we got to this point is still a question that baffles policymakers and stakeholders alike. What is sure though is that if the city’s fortunes are to be turned around, the attitude of nonchalance that normally greets matters of the homeless must be changed. This is particularly necessary if the educational future of the homeless youths is to be salvaged.

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