Homelessness among Long Island students has more than tripled since the start of the recession, according to New York state education department data.
State education department officials confirmed that Long Island had more than 8,000 homeless students during the 2012-13 school year, up from about 2,600 during 2007-08. Long Island has the most homeless students of any New York community outside of New York City.
Economic struggles and home foreclosures linked to the recession and Sandy are cited as the causes for the jump in student homelessness.
“Some of the places where we tutor, they don’t have electricity,” said Julia Schnurman of Suffolk Eastern BOCES, or Boards of Cooperative Educational Services. “They don’t even have a light bulb where we can sit a tutor to read with them and do their homework. The problem is a lot more widespread than people understand.”
The William Floyd school district in Suffolk County has more than 500 homeless students. Many of them face daily stress and struggles, officials acknowledge. Some are housed temporarily in shelters outside the district and endure lengthy bus rides to class every day. Some have limited or no access to the technology needed to keep up in the classroom. Others don’t even eat regular meals.
“With so much upheaval in a child’s life, one of the things you want to remain consistent is school,” said William Floyd Superintendent Paul Casciano.
The district, like most on Long Island, employs a “homeless liaison” who helps students navigate their challenges. But according to experts, federal budget cuts and tighter local school budgets have taken a big bite out of help for homeless students.
The result, said Schnurman, is that the students’ performance in the classroom could suffer. The private sector must step in to help, she added.
“The kids who are sitting in classrooms today, if these lose hope now, they will become hopeless adults.”