By Ralph da Costa Nunez
President, Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness
The recent data released by the U.S. Department of Education on the increase in the number of homeless students in the United States are sad, but not surprising. Family homelessness has been climbing steadily for decades. School Year (SY) 2012-13 saw 1.3 million homeless students. That is an 18 percent increase from SY 2010-2011. We witnessed a similar trend in New York City — a 16 percent increase in homeless students over the same period.
What is more, those are only the students on record. Many children try to hide their housing status because of the stigma associated with homelessness or out of fear of being taken away from their parents. We cannot forget that these statistics do not include an equal number of homeless children who are not yet old enough to attend school.
We have a family homelessness crisis on our hands.
Seventy-five percent of homeless students are living “doubled-up,” crowded into the apartments of family or friends, sleeping on couches, always worrying about the day they will have over-stayed their welcome. Another 16 percent of students are living in shelters and 6 percent are living in hotels and motels. More than one out of every three homeless students is attending a school that receives no McKinney-Vento funding, meaning that there are no federal education dollars specifically targeted to help these homeless students.
Homeless students miss more school, score lower on standardized tests, are far more likely to repeat a year of school, and are more likely to drop out than permanently housed students.
This is unacceptable. How can a nation that prides itself on the well-being of its children allow this crisis to continue? The number of homeless students knows no limit, so why would we limit our investment in their futures? Implementing policies that ignore the realities of child homelessness will only lessen the opportunities available to them. Unless we recognize the importance of education in ending the cycle of family homelessness, today’s American Dream will become tomorrow’s nightmare.
To learn more, read our recent report, A Tale of Two Students: Homelessness in New York City Public Schools.