Home About Us Media Kit Subscriptions Links Forum

View All Articles

Download PDF










Camps & Sports


Children’s Corner

Collected Features


Cover Stories

Distance Learning


Famous Interviews


Medical Update

Metro Beat

Movies & Theater


Music, Art & Dance

Special Education

Spotlight On Schools

Teachers of the Month



















The Plight of Homeless Children:
Losing Education Hopes & Dreams: Part I of a Series

15,380 Homeless Children in NYC Get Lost in the Shuffle
by Russell Crane

Families reach the point of homelessness because they have exhausted their housing and financial resources and many may not have a network of support, either due to domestic violence or other breakdowns in relationships. The instability caused by homelessness that a family experiences hits on all parts of a family's life, and their children's education becomes only one of the areas that is put into chaos. Currently, there are 8,798 families including 15,380 children in the New York City shelter system. The average length of stay in the shelter system for families is over eleven months.

For a family who has just become homeless, regular school attendance poses an enormous challenge. Families from all the five boroughs of New York City have to apply for shelter at a government office in the South Bronx called the Emergency Assistance Unit (EAU). Currently, the number of homeless families applying for shelter exceeds the EAU's maximum capacity for people on a regular basis. According to a New York City local law, the City must process homeless families' applications for shelter on the day that they apply for shelter and not send them to more than one overnight placement, before assigning the family to a stable conditional shelter placement, which could be a hotel or a non-profit operated shelter. As the system is currently being operated, families who apply for shelter are regularly being sent to unlawful multiple overnight placements. Buses take families out of the EAU late at night, frequently after midnight, so that it is impossible for families to get adequate sleep before they are bused back to the EAU to wait all day for processing. The current EAU, where families are forced to spend so much time, is extremely noisy, very crowded, and lacks any source of stimulation for children or a place for children to quietly do schoolwork.

Families are returned from overnight placements to the EAU during the morning from very early, to as late as 10:30 am. Many families decide that by the time they arrive at the EAU, it is too late to take their children to school or their children will simply be too tired to stay awake in school. Other families may not yet have their children registered in school and are worried that they will not be able to complete the registration process without an address. Families who do try to take their children to school must carry all of their belongings (there is no storage at the EAU) and must complete a rigorous, time-consuming process of waiting in long lines to get passes to leave the EAU and to get Metrocards to travel to school. During the 2003-2004 school year, The Legal Aid Society documented wide-spread problems adversely affecting families' abilities to obtain passes to leave the EAU and to obtain the proper amount of Metrocard fare to take children to school, both of which are discouraging factors to families who are making efforts to take children to school.

When the City finally places a family into a more stable conditional shelter, the location can be in a completely new neighborhood for the family. According to New York State regulations, the City has a responsibility to try to place families in a shelter closest to the youngest child's school. Unfortunately, because the shelter system is so crowded, many families are placed very far from their old schools.

Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Act in order to protect the rights of homeless children to attend school. Under this legislation, homeless children have the right to immediately enroll in a new school where they currently are or continue their enrollment in the previous school, which they attended before becoming homeless. In accordance with a court order in New York City, if a family chooses to commute back to their original school, the family is entitled to receive ongoing transportation assistance, if they need it, to be able to travel to that school.

After a family receives a conditional shelter placement, the City conducts an investigation to determine whether a family has any other housing actually available to them. The Legal Aid Society's analysis of City data on applications shows that many families have to file multiple applications for shelter before the City concedes they are eligible. When the City determines a family to be "ineligible" for shelter the family must leave their shelter placement, and if the family has nowhere to go they must re-apply for shelter at the EAU. Therefore, ineligible determinations throw children's education into turmoil again because a family may no longer be close to the school where the children were newly registered.

Ineligible families are also currently being put through a different process at the EAU, which the City calls "Fast Track." Under the "Fast Track" policy, families are only given overnight placements during their application. For families who are on "Fast Track," school attendance becomes exponentially more difficult because day after day families are in the EAU environment with a little amount of sleep and all of their belongings.

A Court-ordered Special Master Panel, which has the authority to evaluate all aspects of the shelter system and make recommendations for improvement has found that the current EAU is "an unhealthy environment" and the eligibility process to be error-ridden. They have recommended that the City end the "Fast Track" policy for families determined ineligible and that the current EAU be replaced with a new EAU that would involve a shorter application process with families receiving stable placements more quickly. If the City follows these recommendations, it would have an enormous impact on homeless children's school attendance.#

Russell Crane works for the Legal Aid Society of New York.



Show email





Education Update, Inc.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2005.