You are reading

More Than 100,000 NYC Students Are Homeless, New Report Finds

A classroom sits empty in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Nov. 2, 2021. Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Logo for THE CITY
This article was originally published by The CITY on Nov. 8 
BY  of Chalkbeat

Nearly 1 in 10 New York City public school students were homeless last school year, a staggering rate that has barely budged for several years.

About 101,000 students lived in unstable, or temporary, housing in the 2020-2021 school year, according to an analysis of state data released Monday by Advocates for Children. That’s a larger number of children than the entire school district of Denver.

Homeless students face a host of barriers to education in any given year, especially in terms of attendance. In a year when the COVID pandemic continued to disrupt in-person schooling and place extraordinary challenges on families and students across the five boroughs, homeless students faced even more hardships.

Accessing classwork and instruction — which was difficult for many children last school year — was sometimes impossible for homeless students and their families. Family shelters did not have Wi-Fi and are only getting it now, following a lawsuit from Legal Aid. Even students equipped with city-issued internet-enabled iPads struggled to log on for classes because shelters had spotty connections to the cell service that those devices depend on.

Now, advocates are looking ahead to Mayor-elect Eric Adams in hopes that he’ll take aggressive steps to curb student homelessness and address their dire educational outcomes.

Just 29 percent of homeless students passed their grades 3-8 reading exams, while just 27 percent passed math — both about 20 percentage points lower than their peers living in stable housing, according to 2019 data. Sixty-one percent of homeless students graduated on time in the school year before the pandemic, compared to 84 percent of their peers with stable housing.

“We are hopeful that given the incredibly poor outcomes we’re seeing, particularly for students in shelter, that Mayor-elect Adams’ administration will recognize the crisis for what it is,” said Jennifer Pringle, director of Project Learning In Temporary Housing at Advocates for Children.

Barriers to Learning

More than 3,800 students had no shelter and lived in cars, parks or abandoned buildings, while another 200 students lived in hotels or motels, according to the Advocates for Children report.

Another 28,000 lived in city shelters, while about 65,000 students lived “doubled-up” with friends or family. (Information was not available for roughly 3,900 students, the organization said.)

Though the rate was similar to prior years, the overall number of homeless students — 94 percent of them Black or Hispanic — appeared to have fallen by 9.5 percent year-over-year. That decrease could be due in part to a drop in student enrollment across the system, which lost more than 3 percent of its students last school year.

Additionally, schools may have faced more challenges in identifying where students lived because the majority of children chose to learn remotely — an issue that advocates also flagged last year.

Homeless students were far less likely to show up for remote or in-person school last year. Between January and June 2021, attendance rates for students living in shelters were roughly 10 to 14 percentage points less than students in stable housing, according to city data analyzed by Advocates for Children.

The struggles have continued this year. The first couple weeks of this school year, the attendance rate was about 73 percent for those in temporary housing, rising to 78 percent more recently, compared to the citywide rate hovering around the “high 80s and low 90s,” according to what education department officials have shared with Advocates for Children.

For one mom last year, attendance wasn’t the issue. She struggled to simply enroll her son in preschool while moving between shelters and trying to find permanent housing.

Comfort Mensah, a 33-year-old mother in The Bronx, needed a program for her then-3-year-old son Gabriel that would provide support for his recent diagnosis of autism and developmental delays.

Mensah regularly called the education department to find a placement for Gabriel while also caring for her 2-year-old son. At the same time, she also was navigating her housing search on her phone since there were no computers at the shelter to use, and without the internet, she often went over the data limit on her mobile plan. Sometimes, she spent chunks of the roughly $400 she received from public assistance to buy him toys from Amazon that were meant to improve his motor skills.

“At this point, I was in tears every day because my son is not telling me what he needs, he’s always crying,” Mensah said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

About 30 percent of students in shelters have been identified to need special education services, compared to 21 percent of permanently housed students, according to data obtained by Advocates For Children.

Calls for More Support in Shelters

The de Blasio administration has made some investments in support for homeless students, including $12 million for more school-based staff and training and 100 “Bridging The Gap” social workers for schools with high numbers of homeless children. The education department did not immediately provide comment.

Advocates For Children, along with about 40 other community organizations who work directly with families and students, are calling on the Adams administration to go much further.

They have asked Adams to tackle a slew of issues, including hiring 150 shelter-based coordinators who would help families like Mensah’s to navigate the education department and help with school enrollment, bus service, and special education services.

The organizations are also calling for several more changes, including improving school attendance, creating more coordination between housing agencies and the education department and moving more families in shelter closer to their home schools, as roughly 40 percent of families are in shelters outside of the borough of their child’s school.

After more than half a year waiting for the city to find her son an appropriate placement, Mensah eventually connected with Advocates For Children, which began helping her in February.

By April, after Advocates contacted the education department, Gabriel was enrolled at Kennedy Children’s Center, a special education preschool in the Bronx, where he’s been since. The school serves children ages 3-5 who have been identified as having significant developmental delays.

Mensah has now found permanent housing at an apartment building in the Bronx that she said she loves. At school pickup last Friday, a teacher told Mensah that Gabriel has improved so much that they want to reevaluate certain parts of his individualized education program.

“He can talk now, he can hold a pencil, he can hold a crayon,” Mensah said.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

email the author: [email protected]
No comments yet

Leave a Comment
Reply to this Comment

All comments are subject to moderation before being posted.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Recent News

BP launches new advisory panel for youth to become civically engaged in the future of Queens

In an effort to get more young people involved in civics, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has created a new advisory panel known as the Youth and Young Adult Council to introduce the “youngest and fiercest” community advocates to both community service and organization.

Members of the advisory body will advocate concerns through means of community engagement by participating in one of two cohorts. The first will be made up of high school representatives between the ages of 13 and 17, while the second cohort will be comprised of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.

‘Where do we go now?’ Michaels set to close its doors in Fresh Meadows next month

The Michaels located at 187-04 Horace Harding Expwy. in Fresh Meadows will be permanently closing its doors on Feb. 23. The announcement that Michaels will be leaving the Fresh Meadows Shopping Center has led to an outpouring of reactions from many community members.

“We know this is disappointing to our customers in Queens, but we hope to continue to serve them at our other locations in New York City or online at,” a spokesperson for Michaels said in a statement to

Queens senator holds Lunar New Year celebration at Tangram in Flushing

Hundreds of revelers joined state Senator John Liu for a Lunar New Year celebration Friday night at Tangram in Downtown Flushing. The event featured free food from 25 local restaurants, as well as musical and cultural performances and giveaways.

Liu was joined at the event by several local leaders, including Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, Councilwomen Sandra Ung and Linda Lee and many more. Many of the leaders spoke about the importance of this celebration to the Queens community as they celebrated the start of the Year of the Rabbit.

These Queens eateries are participating in the upcoming NYC Restaurant Week

NYC Restaurant Week is underway, so nix that skillet and bring family and friends to your favorite neighborhood spot, or get inspired and break bread somewhere new and different. During this special citywide culinary event, food-lovers will enjoy curated menus and prix-fixe prices that are easy on the wallet.

Bookings began on Jan. 17 and are available until Feb. 12, and you can reserve a table at 30 participating Queens restaurants, along with hundreds more across the five boroughs.

Flushing BID launches free online raffle to support local businesses in the community

The Flushing Business Improvement District (BID), on Friday, Jan. 20, announced the launch of Lucky7, a free online raffle to celebrate the Lunar New Year, promote local businesses, and bring shoppers from other regions to downtown Flushing. 

“This event is to celebrate the culture in Downtown Flushing. The food culture, shopping culture, but most importantly to celebrate the Lunar New Year culture in Downtown Flushing,” said Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing BID. “This is a unique opportunity for people not familiar with Downtown Flushing to truly experience the food and fun that’s only available in Flushing.”

Queens lawmaker reintroduces legislation to make Lunar New Year a federal holiday

As the Asian American community prepares to begin celebrating Lunar New Year on Sunday, Jan. 22, Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng on Friday reintroduced a package of legislation to commemorate the holiday. 

Meng’s legislative Lunar New Year package includes the Lunar New Year Day Act, which would establish Lunar New Year as the 12th federal holiday recognized across the United States. It also includes a resolution, “Recognizing the cultural and historical significance of Lunar New Year,” that commemorates the long history and explains the cultural importance of the holiday. 

Lunar New Year ‘special celebration’ held at Queensborough Community College in Bayside

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz joined Councilwomen Sandra Ung and Linda Lee on Wednesday, Jan. 18, for a special celebration in honor of the Lunar New Year at the Student Union Building at Queensborough Community College in Bayside.

Ung escaped the Cambodian genocide as a child, and her family emigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old. Now she represents Flushing with its enormous Asian American population. She said she is proud to see how many Lunar New Year celebrations she sees around the city compared to when she first arrived in Queens.

BP Richards, local leaders speak with small business owners in Flushing in effort to improve the neighborhood

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards joined several Queens leaders Wednesday morning for a walking tour through Flushing to get input from the community on how to improve the neighborhood.

The Jan. 18 tour comes in the wake of public safety concerns in downtown Flushing. While crime was a main concern among the business owners Richards spoke with Wednesday, there were other areas they wished to see improvements in across the area, including traffic and sanitation issues.