Homeless plan sought

The numbers are growing: One out of 10 students in New York City public schools — about 100,000 children — were homeless last year, 6 percent more than the previous year, according to the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students.

Affordable housing has become scarce in neighborhoods that were once solidly working class, from Mott Haven in the Bronx to Bushwick in Brooklyn. Public schools have stepped up, providing everything from backpacks filled with supplies to in-school laundry rooms for children and families living in shelters, doubled up with family or in other temporary quarters. Some schools allow students arriving late from a shelter to take breakfast to their desks.

The ripple effect of homelessness can be felt throughout our schools. It’s a problem that deserves a systemic response from the Department of Education, not a piecemeal approach that varies from school to school.
One of the most important things schools can do is provide services that address the particular needs of homeless students, such as after-school homework programs that give students a sanctuary in which to do their work undisturbed, perhaps one that includes dinner. Some schools already offer these kinds of services. For many homeless students, school is a welcome respite from the cramped and unpredictable environment of a shelter or motel.

But more needs to be done to ensure students have access to school counselors, social workers and school psychologists.

The UFT spoke recently at a hearing in support of legislation before the City Council that would require additional reporting on the number of homeless children and families and require the city to give homeless families information about the rights of their children to school and the transportation to get there.

We need to have a comprehensive approach, since the crisis figures only to get worse as housing prices climb.

The UFT, in partnership with the Coalition for the Homeless, holds an annual Thanksgiving luncheon and a holiday party for homeless students. The union is collecting new coats and other winter accessories for homeless students that will be distributed at the luncheon [see more information on page 33]. We hope you will give generously.

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