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City taking fresh approaches to help record number of homeless kids do better in school


City Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks (left) and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza are working together on a fresh approach to give homeless kids more help at shelters and in schools (Barry Williams for New York Daily News)

City officials are teaming up to address record homelessness among New York City public school students — about one in 10 of whom live in shelters or doubled up with family and friends.

The 114,000 homeless kids are more likely to miss class and less likely to meet reading and math standards and graduate on time. They also attend college at lower rates than their peers and may experience emotional problems, research shows.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks are working together on a fresh approach to give homeless kids more help at shelters and in schools — with tutoring, computer access, social workers and therapists.

The two agency heads sat down with the Daily News to explain how they'll tackle the crisis and share their thoughts on the causes and solutions behind the problem.

Banks said the factors that have rendered so many city students homeless have been at work for years.

Over the past decade or so, he said, the city lost 150,000 units of affordable housing. Also during that time, he said, rents spiked 18% while incomes rose just 5%.

"That's what produces families with children that are living in unstable housing," said Banks. "The number of students who are unstably housed points directly to the affordability crisis that's built up over many years."

Record numbers of city students are homeless.
Record numbers of city students are homeless. (Daily News)

Faced with rising housing costs and stagnant wages, many families simply can't afford to pay rent on their own, even with one or both parents working. Amid rising gentrification, many are forced from their homes.

But they don't always end up in city shelters, and even fewer wind up living on the street.

Many students who lose their homes find themselves living with extended family and friends in doubled-up situations that are often temporary and sometimes very short-term.

Those arrangements can cause major trauma in students' lives, Carranza said.

"Sometimes students feel very embarrassed about the fact that they're sleeping on somebody's couch or somebody's floor — or that they're in a shelter," he said.

"There's a lot of angst in terms of how these students present themselves at school. They're withdrawn. Some are acting out or will not complete their work."

To ease the burden faced by these students, Banks and Carranza are making efforts to ensure they don't become homeless in the first place, and to provide them with extra supports in case it does happen.

Banks said the city's increased legal assistance for tenants facing eviction has reduced evictions conducted by city marshals by 27%, helping families stay housed.

And rental assistance programs have helped more than 100,000 people move out of city shelters into stable homes where their rent is partially paid by the city, Banks said.

When families do end up homeless, Banks said, the city has increased efforts to put them in shelters near their schools. Some 72% of families in shelters now live in the boroughs where their children attend classes, data show.

Carranza and Banks worked to move more than 200 families as part of that that effort over the summer, Banks said.

And the city is also constructing more purpose-built shelters for families, Banks said, with areas for students to study and greater availability of computers and Internet access.

In the schools, Carranza said, the city plans to hire 100 additional community coordinators to connect homeless students to needed supports such as transportation, counseling and tutoring.

The goal, he said, is to elevate services for homeless students until they're on an equal playing field with other students.

"Our goal is to make it indistinguishable, so you can't tell it's a factor," Carranza said. "We're trying to create a place where students are indistinguishable by their circumstances, and I think that's possible."