Two months after the I-Team first reported on a lack of school buses for many of the city’s homeless children, five-year-old Christiana and her siblings got a big yellow surprise last week: a bus to carry them from their Brooklyn homeless shelter to school.
“I love it,” Christiana said.
Until recently, Christiana and her siblings were among many homeless children whose request for school buses were denied. The New York City Department of Education had told families adding a stop at their shelters would put bus routes over the city’s five-mile limit.
“It felt sad and terrible,” said Christiana’s seven-year-old brother Jay’Juan. “It kept on making me be late.”
But after the I-Team exposed how thousands of homeless children in shelters far from their school were losing sleep, missing class and schlepping for hours on mass transit, Mayor de Blasio decided to change the rules and provide them with bus service to school. Last week, those buses started rolling.
“When I saw it I said we really have to find a different way,” de Blasio said.
The Mayor said the new buses would roll on Jan. 19.
The DOE says it cannot give the I-Team an estimate of how many more homeless children have
received rides to school since the policy change. They do say it hasn’t been easy.
In a Jan. 18 memo emailed to schools and obtained by the I-Team DOE staff said, “I hope you will understand the challenges we faced as we endeavored in a period of less than four weeks to address transportation needs of over 2,000 students living in more than 500 shelters who attend 1,000 different schools.”
The memo said bus companies did not have accurate telephone numbers for homeless parents to arrange pickups.
Steve Banks, who heads the city’s Department of Homeless Services, said the gap between income and New York City rent has led many working people to live in shelters. He said school buses are important to help ensure parents can get to work on time.
“We don’t want families to choose between work and school,“ Banks said.
The I-Team spoke to one public school teacher who is living in shelter, and still awaiting a school bus to bring her seven-year-old son to school. She asked us not to use her name because she doesn’t want her students to know she’s homeless.
“My landlord sold my apartment on me,” she said. “He gave me 30-day notice and I’m a single mother of three children.” She said, explaining how she became homeless.
She makes just under $50,000 a year.
She said the Dept. of Education provides her with a MetroCard, but not with a bus to get her son from their Brooklyn motel for the homeless to his school in Throgs Neck.
“I use two trains and one bus,” her 7 year old son said. “It’s long and it’s cold.”
Since she needs to be at work at 7 a.m. and her son needs to be at school at 8 a.m., her teenage son has been taking his little brother to school. But the trip is long and they’re usually both late.
“I feel sad and that’s it,” the child told the I-Team. “Embarrassed.”
After the I-Team asked City officials about the teacher’s case, the Dept. of Education said they had outdated or inaccurate contact info for her, but they promised her son will have a school bus within two weeks.