In an alarming trend, the number of homeless students in New York City’s public schools has soared to a record 119,320 during the last school year. This historic high is a stark indicator of the housing crisis and the influx of migrant families seeking refuge in the city, reports Troy Closson in the New York Times. 

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Key Takeaways:

  • New York City’s public school system has reported an all-time high number of homeless students, with over 119,000 children living in temporary housing situations.
  • The surge in homelessness is largely attributed to the recent influx of migrant families.
  • The city’s resources for supporting homeless and migrant students, including bilingual teachers and social workers, are stretched thin.
  • Recent policy changes, such as the 60-day limit on shelter stays, may lead to further instability for homeless families.

The statistics, containing children living in a range of temporary accommodations, shed light on the escalating challenges facing Mayor Eric Adams’s administration. Homeless students face significant educational barriers, with high dropout rates and frequent absences being common issues.

The sheer number of students affected by homelessness now surpasses the entire student population of some city-wide school systems, such as Philadelphia’s. With the overall number of students in New York City schools on the decline, the proportion of those who are homeless has become increasingly significant, now representing about 11% of the student body. Certain areas, like parts of the Bronx, are experiencing even more acute impacts, with homeless students there making up over a fifth of the student population.

The rising tide of homelessness among students comes at a time when the city’s schools are already under significant financial pressure. Budget constraints threaten the sustainability of key services that support these students, who are among the most in need within the education system. Advocates for Children of New York, a group monitoring these trends for years, has expressed grave concerns about the worsening situation,

“The situation is becoming more dire.”

The increase in homelessness is largely driven by the arrival of migrant children, who have been crossing the southern border into the city in large numbers. While their enrollment could potentially offset budget cuts in schools with declining numbers, the reality is that the system appears to be struggling to meet their needs. 

Confidential reports from school leaders suggest that there is a gap in the support provided to these students. One principal from Manhattan has called for establishing a specialized office to handle migrant issues more effectively, ensuring that resources and enrollment are managed appropriately.

Other educators are worried about the long-term academic prospects of migrant students, particularly teenagers who may not have enough time to catch up before their schooling ends. Concerns are also being raised about students with learning disabilities who might go undiagnosed and untreated due to the system’s current limitations.

In response to these challenges, the Education Department’s spokeswoman, Jenna Lyle, pointed to a recent increase in funding directed at schools with high numbers of homeless students. She emphasized the department’s commitment to providing comprehensive support and resources to these vulnerable groups.

“It is our ongoing priority to provide them with every support and resource at our disposal.”

Despite these efforts, the city is struggling to keep pace with the needs of over 133,000 newcomers who have fled economic and political instability in their home countries. The city has made some strides, such as hiring additional staff to assist families in shelters with educational matters, but these measures are proving insufficient as the number of emergency shelters grows without a corresponding increase in Education Department staffing.

The city’s resources for English language learners are particularly strained, with a glaring shortage of bilingual social workers and teachers. In an attempt to bridge the gap, the city has relaxed certain hiring regulations, and some schools have turned to technology, like Google Translate, to communicate with students and adapt lesson plans.

Arash Azizzada, who works with Afghan immigrant families, has highlighted the deficiencies in language support services. His observations underscore the city’s struggle to provide adequate resources for non-English speaking students.

A photograph of non-English speaking students learning outside

Community involvement has been a silver lining, with parents and local organizations stepping up to provide support where the system falls short. They have been instrumental in donating supplies, preparing meals, and advocating for the needs of the schools. However, as Marín’s experience at P.S. 124 illustrates, there are limits to what community efforts can achieve, especially when it comes to addressing deeper issues like mental health and emotional well-being.

The city’s policies and practices regarding the integration of migrant families into the school system have been inconsistent. While some, like Quiñonez, have navigated the system successfully, others, such as the Porras Leal family, have encountered obstacles due to policy requirements like having a stable address for school enrollment.

The pre-existing homeless student population, which had already been substantial, continues to face significant academic challenges. The majority of these students are not meeting state standards in reading, and absenteeism remains a pervasive problem.

The situation has drawn attention at the state level as well, with Attorney General Letitia James calling out discriminatory practices in school enrollments across New York State. In New York City, the scale of the issue is particularly daunting.

Mayor Adams’s recent policy to limit shelter stays to 60 days is intended to reduce the number of families in the homeless system but raises concerns about the potential for increased instability for already vulnerable children. The policy could lead to longer commutes and more missed school days, further hindering the educational progress of homeless students.


As New York City confronts this growing crisis, the need for a robust and responsive support system for homeless students is more urgent than ever. The city’s future, and the future of its youngest and most vulnerable residents, depends on the ability to provide stable, supportive educational environments for all children, regardless of their housing status.

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