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Debt Ceiling Cuts Making it Harder to reach 90,000 NY Homeless Students



August 22, 2011

NEW YORK - This fall, more than 90,000 school-age children in New York will be headed back to school from homeless shelters, according to education advocates. They fear the national focus on debt-ceiling budget cuts will make it even harder to help these kids.

Sarah Benjamin with the Mobile Outreach Parent-Child Home Program calls them "invisible" children, because people do not see them sleeping on the streets. She says they have extra needs that are now far more likely to go unnoticed, given all the attention on budget-cutting.

"If these children don't get help and don't get to school when they should, when they do get to school, these thousands of invisible kids are going to be behind. Then they often end up in special classes, which cost the school much more."

Benjamin says last school year, 4,000 students raised their hands and identified themselves as homeless on Long Island. She point out that it costs about $17,000 a year to educate a child in regular classes, but the price tag can often be two or three times higher for special education.

Benjamin says the state does not even count homeless pre-schoolers, but she estimates there are thousands. Her Mobile Outreach program provides educational support for these kids, who are in and out of homeless shelters, at a cost of about $3,000 per child.

"We do the driving, the teachers do the driving, and we stay with that same family two or three years, so there's longevity in a relationship. Wherever they move, we change and go with them."

Benjamin says the program is in jeopardy because cuts have left it about $50,000 in the red.

Jonathan Cantarero, community liaison with Every Child Matters Long Island, says it's not just the homeless facing hardship this fall. Most programs that deal with poverty in schools face cuts, he says.

"Programs like WIC, Headstart, after-school and sports programs are threatened, because the schools are having issues with their own budgets."

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NY