Homeless children in New York City need more help to recover from trauma

Governor Hochul makes a school visit (Photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor’s Office)

Corresponding Attorneys for Children of New York, over 104,000 children were homeless in the 2021-2022 school year. For the seventh straight year, 10% of New York City’s children are homeless. There are many causes of homelessness, but one of the most common is domestic violence. Parents living in abusive relationships often have limited access to money, nowhere to go, no family or friends to turn to, and if they become homeless, so will their children.

There are lifelong consequences for children who witness or experience domestic violence. These kids are 50% more likely becoming a victim or perpetrator of violence. You are too more likely engaging in risky behaviors and struggling with depression and anxiety.

Connecting children affected by homelessness to trained social workers is one of the most effective ways to help them heal from trauma and prevent future violence. But very few have access to the resources they need. New York should invest in programs that provide access to trauma-centric support services for youth living in shelters.

Social workers can provide one-on-one counseling to students and help children recognize their trauma, build healthy relationships, and have successful academic careers. With their personal lives often unstable, homeless children struggle in school, graduating at lower rates and dropping out more often.

Statistically, most homeless families are led by single women of color who have few options and limited resources to help their children. Perhaps they juggle full-time work or job hunting 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 suffer from mental health disorders, post-traumatic stress and drug addiction because of these factors. Children in these families do not have access to the support systems needed to succeed in school or break the cycle of violence and poverty.

The AAP has called for expanded access to school and community-based support to provide at-risk youth with the tools they need to develop healthy coping skills and relationships. Reaching out and providing services to homeless children who are at risk of falling through the cracks of the system must be a government priority.

Urban Resource Institute (URI) tries to reach these children.

URI manages the school-based Relationship Abuse Prevention Program (RAPP) and Early RAPP Helping approximately 40,000 middle and high school students each year build healthy relationships within their families, schools and communities. The culture-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 led by trained social workers who provide individual support and is supplemented by peer counselors in each participating school.

URI’s RAPP program has transformed the lives of many young people 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 shelters and a leading provider of services for homeless families, hosting up to 2,200 people each night in its domestic violence and homeless shelters. Unfortunately, children and young people make up an average of 70% of the total URI accommodation population. Although domestic violence affects many young people in shelters, the majority do not have access to RAPP programs as they are only available in a limited number of schools.

Extending these programs to students living in domestic violence shelters is key to supporting homeless families and their children. As a result, URI has requested $3.5 million in funding from the state to be included in the fiscal year 2023 budget, which ends June 1, 2023.

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

Nathaniel M. Fields is CEO of the Urban Resource Institute (URI), the nation’s largest provider of residential domestic violence services and a leading provider of shelters and services for families affected by homelessness. URI provides comprehensive, innovative programs along with safe client accommodations while working towards sustainable, systemic change.

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