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New Report Sheds Fresh Light on Student Homelessness in NYC

Moments ago, Young Invincibles released a new report examining New York City’s homelessness crisis, and its impact on college student success. Titled “‘I Know What’s at Stake:’ How Homelessness Impacts College Success in New York City,” the report was released following a presentation on the findings and recommendations and a panel of national experts, New York City students, advocates, and elected officials who provided insight on the issue and shared their solutions to increasing college success for students experiencing homelessness. 

“Student homelessness has been getting more attention recently, but we still aren’t doing enough to address the challenges that students experiencing homelessness face as they try to complete their high school and college education,” said Marissa Muñoz, Northeast Regional Director for Young Invincibles. “While federal law already recognizes that P-12 students experiencing homelessness often need additional support to help them graduate high school, students facing those same circumstances have the rug pulled from underneath them once they get to college. A college degree is a path to financial stability, and New York City has a responsibility to make sure that all students get the support they need to complete their degree and achieve their dreams.”

The report shines a new light on the city’s homelessness crisis, taking a closer look at the issue and how policymakers, government officials, and campus leaders can address the needs of students facing homelessness to ensure they graduate from college. The main findings of the report include:

  • Challenges faced by homeless college students start early. As the New York City Department of Education struggles with record numbers of students experiencing homelessness, leadership must keep an eye on supporting students not just through high school, but for college success.
  • New York’s financial aid system is not set up to support students experiencing homelessness. As a result, students often struggle to pay for food, housing, books, transportation, and other essential needs. Navigating the financial aid verification and approval process, as well as past debts, can be especially difficult.
  • Eligibility requirements for housing programs and public benefits can undermine students’ ability to succeed in college. Poor communication between agencies creates additional obstacles and compounds the challenge of limited affordable housing options for college students. 
  • Limited support and visibility on college campuses does not support an inclusive and welcoming environment, making it challenging for students to persist through college.

The main recommendations of the report include

  • Smoothing the transition to postsecondary education by increasing academic counseling and support. Increasing support  of programs that support pathways to graduation and expanding services and programs to students experiencing homelessness at the NYC DOE. 
  • Increasing financial aid and simplifying processes for students facing  homelessness. Eliminating barriers to accessing transcripts, improving the financial aid verification process, and increasing state financial aid for unaccompanied homeless youth can help make college a reality for students experiencing homelessness. 
  • Promoting greater visibility and inclusivity of students experiencing homelessness on college campuses and providing critical wraparound supports. Following the lead of other states, New York State can establish  on-campus liaisons for students experiencing homelessness, and ensure these students have priority access to campus housing. Providing wraparound supports through programs like CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP)  and increasing access to food pantries, paid internships, and streamlining access to public benefits can further increase retention for students experiencing homelessness. 

“The Hope Center’s work, like that of Young Invincibles, demonstrates that students have trouble making ends meet, falling short on money for basic needs such as food and housing,” said Christine Baker-Smith, Managing Director of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University. “With more than 200,000 students enrolling in the City University of New York each year, identifying the challenges students face and potential solutions to these challenges is important for the city and its students.”

“Many New York City students encounter difficult tradeoffs between school and work while earning postsecondary degrees,” said Abja Midha, Vice President of Work-Based Learning Labs at HERE to HERE, a Bronx-based nonprofit that engages multiple stakeholders to create and enhance pathways to rewarding jobs for young people and employers seeking talent. “Work-based learning opportunities supported by postsecondary institutions can offer a path for students — especially the many facing homelessness — to obtain meaningful paid work experience that ultimately enriches their studies, reduces degree incompletions, and helps position them for financial stability and housing security through sustainable careers.”

Moving forward, YI will utilize this report as the foundation for future city and state policy advocacy efforts, and will continue to meet with key stakeholders alongside its advisory committee. Those interested in joining the campaign can sign up here.