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Homeless Children in New York City Need More Help to Recover from Trauma


Gov. Hochul makes a school visit (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


According to Advocates for Children of New York, over 104,000 children were homeless during the 2021-2022 school year. For the seventh year in a row, 10% of kids are experiencing homelessness in New York City. There are many causes of homelessness, but one of the most common is domestic violence. Parents who are in abusive relationships often have limited access to money, nowhere to go, and no family or friends to turn to, and when they become homeless, so do their kids. 

There are lifelong implications for children who witness or experience domestic violence. These children are 50% more likely to become victims or perpetrators of violence themselves. They are also more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors and struggle with depression and anxiety. 

Connecting children experiencing homelessness with trained social workers is one of the most effective methods of helping them heal from trauma and preventing future violence. But very few have access to the resources they need. New York should invest in programs that provide youth living in shelters with access to trauma-centered supportive services.  

Social workers can offer one-on-one counseling to students, helping children acknowledge their trauma, grow healthy relationships, and have successful academic careers. Because their personal lives are often unstable, homeless children struggle in school, graduate at lower rates, and drop out at higher rates. 

Statistically, most homeless families are headed by single women of color who are left with few options and limited resources to help their children. They may be juggling full-time work or searching for employment with securing housing and transporting their children to and from school; these challenges are compounded by the psychological damage of domestic violence. This group of women is more likely to experience mental health disorders, post-traumatic stress, and drug addiction as a result of these factors. Children in these families don’t have access to the support systems needed to succeed in school or break the cycles of violence and poverty. 

The AAP has called for expanded access to school- and community-based supports to provide at-risk youth with the tools they need to develop healthy coping skills and relationships. Reaching homeless children, who are in danger of slipping through the system’s cracks, and providing them with services must be a priority for the state.  

Urban Resource Institute (URI) is trying to reach those children.    

URI administers the school-based Relationship Abuse Prevention Program (RAPP) and Early RAPP to help approximately 40,000 middle and high school students each year to develop healthy relationships within their families, schools, and communities. The culturally sensitive, age-appropriate and trauma-informed programs include conflict resolution and problem solving, with a focus on overcoming trauma, anxiety, and depression. The program is run by trained social workers who provide individualized support and is supplemented by peer counselors within each participating school.   

URI’s RAPP program has changed the trajectory of many young people's lives and their families and communities by providing them with the tools they need to define and develop healthy relationships with the support of peers and educators who share their concerns and understand their needs. Future domestic abuse is avoided, and cycles of violence are broken.  

URI is the nation’s largest provider of domestic violence shelter services and a leading provider of services for homeless families, accommodating as many as 2,200 people every night in its domestic violence and homeless shelters. Sadly, children and youth make up an average of 70% of the total URI shelter population. Though many young people in shelters have been impacted by domestic violence, the majority do not have access to RAPP programming as it is only available in a limited number of schools.   

Expanding these programs to reach students living in domestic violence shelters is key for helping homeless families and their children. That’s why URI has requested $3.5 million in funding from the state to be included in the 2023 fiscal year budget, due by April 1, so that relationship abusive prevention programming can be offered to children in shelters.  

We need New York State’s support to effectively scale programming and make a huge difference for the city’s growing population of homeless children. With their investment, we can transform the lives of domestic violence survivors, helping their children succeed in school and escape poverty.  

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Nathaniel M. Fields is the CEO of Urban Resource Institute (URI), the nation’s largest provider of residential domestic violence services as well as a leading provider of shelter and services for families experiencing homelessness. On Twitter @natmfields & @URI_NYC.

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