The number of homeless students enrolled in city schools has exploded to record highs — but Mayor de Blasio won’t pay for social workers who’d make a huge difference those needy kids’ lives, activists and school staffers charge.
Hizzoner whacked $13.9 million in the city’s upcoming budget that paid for 69 social workers who help homeless kids get to class on time and complete their schoolwork — and now 15 groups who work with children and the homeless are calling on de Blasio to restore the money.
If they don’t get the funding, the social workers will lose their jobs.
The mayor’s $92 billion budget — unveiled in February — is the biggest in the city’s history, and it comes at a time when there are more homeless students than ever, making it vital that the mayor fund the social workers, said Advocates for Children of New York Policy Director Randi Levine.
“We don’t understand why the mayor is playing budget games with these crucial supports,” Levine said. “This is not the time to pull away from the support — we need the city to increase services for students.”
During the 2017-18 school year there were 38,000 students living in shelters and 114,000 total public students identified as homeless, according to city figures. That total is up 66% since 2011 and is the biggest number of all time.
Educators and social workers view the situation as a crisis, since homeless students encounter high levels of trauma and often struggle in school.
The social workers dedicated to helping them — known as Bridging the Gap workers — earn roughly $74,000 per year on average and are assigned to work in schools with high numbers of homeless students.
“Given the record numbers of students experiencing homelessness and the significant needs of these students, we are deeply concerned that your fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget would eliminate funding for key educational support for students living in shelters,” said the letter sent Tuesday.
The letter, signed by diverse entities including the Coalition for the Homeless, The Legal Aid Society, Women In Need and the Children’s Defense Fund-New York, also asks de Blasio to pony up another $5 million to add hire an additional 31 Bridging the Gap social workers for needy students and five clinical supervisors to oversee the program.
Currently, more than 100 public schools with 50 or more students living in a shelter do not yet have a Bridging the Gap social worker, according to the letter.
The groups also ask the mayor for another $500,000 to establish an education support center at the city’s PATH shelter intake center, which currently has no such facility.
The figures are small in comparison to more expensive efforts such as the city’s controversial Renewal Schools program for troubled schools, which cost the city more than $750 million dollars.
Likewise, First Lady Chirlane McCray’s “Thrive” mental health program spent roughly $850 million over four years but has been widely criticized for failing to report results.
In 2018, the mayor also withheld money for school social workers from his initial budget plan but reinstated it after activists applied pressure.
But educators and social workers who work with homeless students said the mayor’s funding game creates unnecessary anxiety.
“It’s a shame we have to do this dance with the budget to staff such important positions,” said one Education Department staffer who works with homeless kids.
“It undercuts our ability to attract better social workers,” the staffer added. “It sucks.”
De Blasio spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg said the mayor is dedicated to helping address the needs of homeless students.