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Mayor de Blasio Cuts Funding for Program That Helps Homeless Students

HOST INTRO: The number of homeless students in New York City has reached an all-time high. One student out of every ten is homeless. For many, it’s a challenge even making it to school each day. And now a city program that helps these students might get cut from next year’s budget. Alex Colletta has more.

COLLETTA: Students living in temporary housing face particular challenges that most students don’t.

Patricia Brichta is a special education liaison at a public school in East Harlem. Her school has about 90 homeless students out of 400.

BRICHTA: I see these kids come to school tired, dirty, haven’t slept well.  You know, having your own room is this crazy luxury. These kids don’t have their own bed. (0:11)

Brichta says that living in these conditions can really wear a student down and have a lasting effect on their learning.

BRICHTA: So when they come to school, they don’t have the emotional capacity and the mental capacity to be focused and to care about school. (0:13)

That’s why three years ago the Department of Education launched a program to support kids living in temporary housing. “Bridging the Gap” placed 69 social workers in schools with a high concentration of homeless students.

Ben Anderson, the Director of Poverty and Health Policy at the Children’s Defense Fund in New York, says the social workers help students in a variety of ways, from making sure they’re enrolled in health insurance and have access to nutritional assistance programs to providing counseling.

ANDERSON: Homeless children are much more likely to have experienced some sort of childhood trauma, be it witnessing domestic violence, experiencing physical or sexual abuse themselves. (0:12)

Next year, that help might go away. In his preliminary budget, the mayor proposed eliminating the $13.9 million needed to run the program. But according to Anderson, that’s money well-spent.

ANDERSON: We know based on research that providing social workers to students in the school setting is one of the more effective ways at ensuring that student needs are met. (0:12)

A coalition of 17 organizations agree. Together, they’ve signed a letter asking the mayor to refund the program. We reached out to the mayor’s office but they didn’t respond to request for comment. New York City Councilman Mark Treyger questioned the logic of cutting the program at a budget hearing last week.

TREYGER: The program has been widely supported and lauded not only by the council and advocates but by DOE officials themselves. (0:08)

Mayor de Blasio proposed the same cut last year but restored it in the final budget after some backlash. This year, it’s happening again.

TREYGER: There is a need—and I would say an urgent need—for additional social-emotional supports in schools. (0:06)

Randi Levine is the Policy Director at Advocates for Children of New York. She says that homeless students don’t have enough support as it is.

LEVINE: We still have 100 schools with 50 or more students living in shelter that do not have a Bridging the Gap social worker. So we should be talking about how to increase the number of Bridging the Gap social workers, not proposing to cut the program. (0:16)

Brichta agrees that cutting the program isn’t the right move. She says it would have dire consequences for students and their families.

BRICHTA: It’s very sad, you know. I think counselors and social workers are essential. You can’t learn if you’re experiencing emotional and social problems so it can only make it worse for these kids and their families. (0:18)

The mayor will announce a revised budget at the end of next month. City council will then hold hearings in May to discuss the budget before it’s finalized.

Alex Colletta, Columbia Radio News.


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