As family homelessness climbs, calls grow louder for solving school attendance woes

As family homelessness climbs, calls grow louder for solving school attendance woes

Nine-year-old Ameerah remembers when her commute to school was a five-minute walk. That was before her family left their Queens home for a shelter in another part of the borough.

During the year they lived in the shelter, Ameerah was at the bus stop with her mom and sister at 6:30 a.m., commuting at least 45 minutes on two buses and two trains. They often returned nearly 12 hours later, her mom said, and the girls were sometimes too tired to complete their homework in the evenings.

“My legs, sometimes they hurt. My backpack, it’s heavy,” Ameerah said during one of her bus rides last spring when she was in third grade. She fell behind in math, requiring her to go to summer school. (Chalkbeat is using pseudonyms to protect the family’s privacy.)

Last school year, nearly 30,000 New York City public school students lived in shelters. For these students, getting to school is often a problem, as many are placed far from their current schools. Nearby shelters may lack space, or if the family is in a domestic violence situation, they may be deliberately placed far from home. Shelter transfers can be hard to come by. So families must often choose between punishing commutes like Ameerah’s or transferring schools, which research shows can lead to chronic absenteeism and the need to repeat a grade.

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