Student Homelessness: The Ever-growing Epidemic

With the release of the annual student homelessness snapshot data from New York State, we learned that in school year 2016–17 more than 111,500 New York City students lived in temporary housing, a 6% jump from the prior year and a 60% increase since 2010–11. These staggering numbers of young, homeless children leave many wondering: What is this data really telling us? Can there truly be a hidden population larger than the size of Albany attending school and work by day, while sleeping in temporary, unfit, and emergency settings at night?

According to the City’s shelter count, 60,000 people sleep in the New York City shelter system each night. The January 2017 HOPE count showed just 3,900 additional individuals living unsheltered. City schools, on the other hand, have identified almost twice that number—among school-aged children alone.

The discrepancy comes from a long-standing difference in policy. While the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development categorizes those who are literally without shelter or at immediate risk as homeless, the U.S. Department of Education, Health and Human Services, and others also consider any person living in temporary, unstable settings as homeless. This mainly allows for services to be provided for families living doubled up due to economic hardship or a loss of housing. In New York City schools, 67,800 of the 110,000 students living in temporary housing were classified under this second umbrella. This begs the question: Are doubled-up families really homeless?

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Extensive data shows that students who live doubled up are at a greater risk for school instability and dropping out than their peers who were low-income but lived in stable housing. Students who lived doubled up also reported struggling with mental health issues and basic needs. Notably, half of doubled up teens said that they only got 4 or fewer hours of sleep on an average school night—compared to just one in every nine housed students. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015 New York City Youth Risk Behavior Survey, tabulated by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness)

These are children who may not know where they will sleep that night, who they will be sharing a room with, or how they will get to school the next morning. All too often, these families end up in an emergency shelter or sleeping outside once they have worn out their welcome. The first step to ensuring that these families and children receive the supports they need is to ensure that they are counted.

Learn more about doubled-up students in On the Map: The Atlas of Student Homelessness in New York City.


Anna Shaw-Amoah, Principal Policy Analyst