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Foss: One homeless student is too many

Foss: One homeless student is too many

Foss: One homeless student is too many
Photographer: STOCK IMAGES

I wish I could tell you that the problem of student homelessness is getting better. 

But it's not. 

It's getting worse. 

That it's getting worse at a time when the economy is relatively strong -- the jobless rate is the lowest it's been since 1969  -- is all the more worrisome. 

According to new state data, the number of homeless students in state schools increased by 3 percent between the 2016-2017 school year and the 2017-2018 school year. 

That's not as significant an increase as the one that occurred between 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, when the number of homeless students in New York rose by 6 percent, but it's still troubling.  

If we don't find a way to reverse this worrying trend, we risk accepting student homelessness as a normal part of American life. Which would be an unfortunate turn of events, because no student deserves to be homeless. 

Locally, the number of students who experienced homelessness at some point during the school year varies by district. 

In Schenectady, there were 467 homeless students during the 2017-2018 school year, a big increase from the previous year, when 257 students were homeless throughout the year. 

Larry Spring, the superintendent of the Schenectady City School District, had a slightly lower count for the number of homeless students in the district last year -- about 405. 

Forty-four of those students, he noted, were transplants from Puerto Rico who moved to Schenectady after the hurricane that devastated much of the island. This year, all of those students have housing. 

Right now, the district's homeless student population is 99, but Spring said he expects that number to rise during the year as more homeless students are identified. 

The Schenectady school district employs a full-time homeless student liaison to identify and assist homeless students, which speaks, I think, to the deep-seated need in the district. 

"When we created that position, the number of homeless kids in our district went up," Spring said. "We're definitely getting better at finding those kids. It's not easy. It's not the kind of thing where they walk in and say, 'Hey, we got evicted?'" 

"We forget, sometimes, how debilitating that kind of situation can be for kids," Spring said. 

I give the district credit for tackling the problem of student homelessness head-on.

What bothers me is the need for a homeless student liaison. 

Because Spring is right -- homelessness is debilitating, and it's unfair that so many young people have been forced to navigate the every day challenges of growing up while dealing with the chronic stress of homelessness. 

"Shelter is a really basic need, and when you don't have that it eats away at the core of your well-being," Spring said. 

Other local districts saw their homeless student populations increase last year. 

In the Greater Amsterdam School District, 221 students were considered homeless in 2017-2018, up from 122 the previous year. In Johnstown, 43 students were considered homeless, up from 32 students the year before. In Albany, 512 students were considered homeless up from 464 the year before. 

One district that saw its homeless student population drop last year was Saratoga Springs, where the number of homeless students was 127, down from 165 in 2016-2017. 

That's good news for Saratoga Springs, but many districts are seeing more need, not less. 

I'd like to think that next year's homeless student count will show some improvement. 

But with affordable housing increasingly hard to find, and wage growth flat despite the strong labor market, I doubt it will.

Which makes me sad. 

One homeless student is too many, and the Capital Region is home to hundreds of them. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.      






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