(NEW YORK) — As New York City deals with an increase in its unhoused population, advocates for children say they fear kids who are in families experiencing homelessness are being left behind.
David Giffen, the executive director for the nonprofit group the Coalition for the Homeless, which has been advocating for the city’s homeless population for over 40 years, told ABC News Live that there are more than 23,000 kids sleeping in New York City’s main shelter system.
Families applying for shelters also have to provide evidence of every place they’ve stayed for the last two years and, more often than not, they are rejected and forced to reapply several more times, Giffen said.
“So the trauma of losing one’s home is enough to deal with already, but then that constant stigma that they carry with them at school makes school even more difficult for them,” Giffen told ABC News.
New York City’s Department for Homeless Services declined to comment to ABC News for the story.
Instability can make it difficult for a child to reliably attend school, which is why some nonprofits have taken the initiative to help those children in need with after-school programs.
The Coalition for the Homeless’ after-school program has helped provide kids with tutoring and a safe place to meet and play with other kids.
Steven and Laura Quintero, the parents of Madeline, Santiago and Alan, who are in the city’s shelter system after arriving from Colombia, told ABC News they struggled to interact with other kids due to the language barrier.
Laura Quintero told ABC News the coalition’s program has helped the children a lot.
“They no longer feel the uncertainty of ‘Do I speak? Do I not speak?’ Since they’ve attended the after-school program, they have improved,” she said.
The organization Keys to Abundant Life has been running after-school programs in New York and introducing homeless children to different skills such as cooking, financial planning, college preparation and the arts.
Travis Pratt, the senior program manager at Keys to Abundant Life, told ABC News that he has seen how big of a difference these interactions make on a kid. He recalled a college visit with one of the children he worked with at the organization, and how years later he caught up with that student on the train to discover he was in a better place.
“We took that kid on the college tour and we went to Saint Augustine University, and he was literally a sophomore in college at that same school that we took him to,” he told ABC News.
Katherine Feliz, a Keys to Abundant Life financial literacy instructor and program supervisor, told ABC News that the skills also help the rest of the children’s families.
“If I’m teaching a student about budgeting and now they’re talking about this when they go home,” she told ABC News. “Then we have families that are learning about this and may say, ‘well, this sounds interesting.'”
Bak Harris, a director of regional support for New York City’s Department of Education, told ABC News that these after-school programs are crucial to set up the children for success.
“It’s really important for us to make sure that our students are in a safe, supportive environment and in a particular setting where they can come together as students, share their experiences and learn and grow together,” he told ABC News.
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