7 Things You Need to Know About NYC’s Homeless Students

As 1.1 million New York City students head back to school next week, it is important to remember that 1 in 10 students experience homelessness every year, and as a result face unique educational challenges. Since 2010, over 220,000 students experienced housing instability while enrolled in New York City public schools. In fact, the number of homeless students increased 56% between the 2010–11 and 2016–17 school years. Here are seven things you need to know about NYC’s homeless students.

Homelessness disproportionally affects young students. Half (54%) of all homeless students were in elementary school.

Homeless students are more likely to experience disruptions to their education. These students were 3x as likely to transfer schools mid-year as their housed peers (21% vs. 7%) and more than 1.5x as likely to be chronically absent (36% vs. 21%). When students cannot attend school regularly or maintain continuity in their learning, they are more likely to fall behind academically and not graduate on time with their class.

Many homeless students face language barriers. English Language Learners (ELLs) are overrepresented among the City’s homeless students. One in four students who experienced housing instability were ELLs (25%). This is almost 2x the rate of housed students (14%). For these students, timely access to educational supports such as ELL programs is key.

Homelessness is an ongoing experience. Many students experience multiple episodes of homelessness. The majority of all students identified as homeless had experienced it at least one other time since 2010 and over 8,000 were identified as homeless for half of their school lives—7 years in a row.

Homelessness has a lasting effect on students. Not only did homeless students face recurring or extended episodes of homelessness, once they moved to permanent housing, they continued to experience chronic absenteeism rates comparable to their classmates who were still homeless (35% vs. 36%, respectively), even six years after moving into permanent housing. Likewise, these formerly homeless students continued to perform below grade level in math and English Language Arts—scoring proficient at rates 1.5x to 2x below those of their always housed classmates.

Disrupted learning keeps homeless students from graduating. Barely half of students who experienced homelessness during high school graduated on time (56%). Homeless students who were able to avoid chronic absenteeism or having to transfer schools mid-year, however, had a graduation rate of 90%. But less than a third (29%) of homeless students did not experience these instability factors during their high school years.

Homeless students are at heightened risk for mental health issues. The chronic stress of housing instability can severely impact the mental health of homeless students. Nearly half of homeless high school students (46%) reported struggling with depression, and over a third (35%) reported being bullied. Most alarmingly, high school students experiencing homelessness were 4x as likely to attempt suicide as their housed peers (28% vs. 7%).

Student data is for the years SY 2010–11 to SY 2016–17 and comes from the New York City Department of Education. Mental health data are weighted estimates from New York City’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The effects of homelessness extend far beyond the lack of permanent housing, and can impact a student’s education, physical and emotional well-being, and their ability to overcome the cycle of poverty and housing instability. Understanding the scope of homelessness and the diverse challenges faced by the students experiencing it is fundamental to developing targeted solutions and effectively addressing the needs of homeless students.

The Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness brings this actionable issue into focus through relevant reports, engaging infographics, and interactive data tools. Explore our Student Homelessness in New York City series to learn more about the effects of housing instability in the lives of students who experience it.