NYC Shows 'Massive Breakdowns' in Tracking Homeless Student Population

In the midst of New York City's record number of homeless cases, a city comptroller report revealed "massive breakdowns" in how public schools are handling homeless students. More than half of homeless students are missing classes and those numbers haven't been properly tracked by school officials.

Out of the more than 33,000 students residing in homeless shelters during the 2015-2016 school year, nearly 58 percent, or around 19,000 students, were "chronically absent," the NYC Comptroller audit revealed Thursday.

The report sounded the alarm on how the Department of Education follows up regarding missed classes.

The audit examined whether the DOE "carried out their responsibilities" by combing through the agency's list of students living in homeless shelters. In a randomly selected sample of frequently truant students, the Comptroller found that some students' listed addresses did not match their actual location. Some of these students were miscoded and did not actually live in a shelter during the audit period.

Chronic school absences among homeless kids. Bureaucratic breakdowns among adults. And a failure to support vulnerable children.

That's what our DOE audit found.

One child in our report was absent for 27 days before DOE even bothered to reach out to the parent.


— Scott M. Stringer (@NYCComptroller) March 15, 2018

At a press conference announcing the Department of Education's violations, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer singled out the "stunning case" of a homeless first grader who attended two different schools in one school year. The 6-year-old student was absent 55 out of 178 school days and missed an entire school week before there was any attempt to get ahold of the parent.

The audit noted that while the DOE has protocols related to student absences, it lacks oversight to make sure they are actually followed through. The comptroller cites several cases where the only response to absences 17 to 51 days in length was a form letter. The DOE sees "robo-calls" as an "outreach effort."

In an effort to improve attendance, the mayor's office added 100 social workers to curb absences and has guaranteed transportation through buses or the subway system, including the use of a MetroCard, as a method of improving accountability.

"Our administration is tackling it head-on with investments in school and shelter programming, including dramatically expanded bus service, more social workers, and better monitoring so we know who's missing from class," Jaclyn Rothenberg, Mayor Bill de Blasio's deputy secretary, said in a statement to Newsweek.

New York City has the largest homeless population in the U.S. and has seen a 4 percent increase in the number of homeless individuals since 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. There are 76,501 homeless people throughout the five boroughs.

Last year, de Blasio announced a five-year plan titled "Turning the Tide on Homelessness." The plan called for 90 new shelters—40 would open in 2017 and 2018—but has been hit with criticism. Only 10 shelters had opened since January 2018.