New York City

Funding set to expire for coordinators who help NYC’s homeless children

Having shelter-based assistance has aided families as they navigate the city’s school system.

For some New York City schoolchildren, having a community coordinator based in a shelter can make all the difference.

For some New York City schoolchildren, having a community coordinator based in a shelter can make all the difference. Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress/Getty Images

Anzhela Mordyga doesn’t want to lose the woman working as a shelter-based community coordinator at her Brooklyn shelter.

Her 8-year-old son was granted a safety transfer after a teacher displayed aggressive behavior during a meeting, but when she went to enroll him in a new school, Mordyga was told there wasn’t any space. Not wanting her son to miss more school with the state exam coming up, she sought help from the community coordinator working at her shelter.

Things moved quickly from there. Not only did the coordinator help connect Mordyga to the Board of Education – which helped place her son at a school that day – she also connected her son to tutoring services. The help has been transformative. While her son’s tutoring is based on the upcoming state exam he will soon take, Mordyga has been able to work her remote job when he’s occupied.

“You can have as many shelters as you want, but if you don’t have people processing them out the right way you just have a holding cell. You don’t have anything going on inside,” Mordyga said. “You need someone to make moves and she literally makes everything flow.”

But funding for these key positions is currently slated to run out at the end of June.

“She’s amazing. I don’t know what I’d do without her. I don’t want to lose her,” Mordyga said. “If I do, where do I go then?

A new brief from Advocates for Children released Thursday morning highlights the crucial services the city’s 100 shelter-based community coordinators have been providing since the initiative began last school year. Unlike other shelter staff who help families find permanent housing and access public benefits, these coordinators exclusively focus on meeting the educational needs of children. Combating chronic absenteeism – something students living in temporary housing are particularly prone to – finding appropriate educational programs, securing transportation and helping new migrant arrivals enroll in and navigate a new school system have been some of the ways these individuals have helped families.

“It is unthinkable that funding for shelter-based community coordinators is in jeopardy at a time of such tremendous need,” Jennifer Pringle, director of Advocate For Children’s Learners in Temporary Housing project, said in a statement. “The (shelter-based community coordinators) have provided students and families with life-changing support, and the city urgently needs to identify a new funding source to ensure the continuity of their work.”

The latest data only brings the shelter-based coordinators’ importance into sharper focus. In New York City public schools, 1 in 9 students experienced homelessness during the 2022-23 school year – a record-high of 119,320 children even as overall enrollment declined. While 61% of those students were living “doubled up” in shared housing, 34% – more than 40,800 – spent time in the shelter system.

The city hired 100 shelter-based community coordinators last school year as thousands of migrant families arrived in the city, but the positions were created with temporary funding. Twenty-five positions were created using city money, while the other 75 posts came from federal stimulus funds, which are expiring soon.

All students experiencing homelessness face immense challenges to succeeding in school, although those obstacles are particularly strenuous for families living in shelters. During the 2021-22 school year, New York City students living in shelters dropped out of high school over three times as often as their peers. Only 11% of third through eighth graders received proficient scores on the state math exam. A staggering 72% of students were chronically absent, meaning they missed at least one out of every 10 school days.

The brief points out that shelter-based community coordinators are working on the ground where the students and families experiencing these challenges live, meaning they can build vital personal relationships to help them understand the underlying issues preventing regular attendance.

According to the brief, one coordinator helped a teenager who was contemplating dropping out of school after having a baby enroll in a program that provides student parents with free on-site child care, allowing her to continue high school. One coordinator helped twins with autism secure a school transfer after they were evicted from their Bronx home and placed in a shelter in Brooklyn. They also arranged door-to-door car service for the twins so they wouldn’t have to miss more school waiting for a bus paraprofessional to be assigned. Another coordinator helped a kindergartener raise her attendance from 50% in the fall to 83% by the spring.

The New York City Council is on board about the benefits. In its official response to Mayor Eric Adams’ budget proposal, the City Council urged the Adams administration to provide $12.3 million for 100 shelter-based community coordinators starting in the coming fiscal year.

“The council believes in their worth and will be negotiating to maintain funding in the city budget for them,” City Council Education Committee Chair Rita Joseph said in a statement. “Without it, we jeopardize the academic success and future prospects of some of the most vulnerable youth within the city’s education system.”

A spokesperson for the New York City public school system acknowledged the critical resources the city’s shelter-based community coordinators have provided.

“We are extremely grateful for the stimulus funding that we used to support a range of programs and roles that support student well-being, especially as we continue to respond to the ongoing migrant crisis,” Jenna Lyle, deputy press secretary, said in a statement. “We will review these priorities as we go through the budget process.”

The brief concludes by arguing the city should be increasing its efforts to ensure students in shelter are able to access a high-quality education – certainly not by jeopardizing the continuance of shelter-based community coordinators: “Losing 100 (shelter-based community coordinators) would result in a massive service gap for students who are homeless; at a minimum, the administration must maintain the limited supports that currently exist and find a permanent funding stream to continue the work of these critical staffers.”