By Liz Leighton
Two of the leading candidates for the upcoming vacant 41st District City Council seat weighed in yesterday on one of the district’s biggest issues – how to deal with Bed-Stuy and Brownsville housing the 3rd– and 4th-largest population citywide of homeless public school students.
The issue was highlighted this week when the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness (ICPH) released an interactive map on neighborhoods with the highest percentage of homeless students. The map was part of a report that found Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville had percentages of 15.2% within their school districts (District 23 and 16).
The report further stated that the homeless population was 1,267 for Bedford-Stuyvesant and 1,617 for Brownsville. The stat sheets included in the report showed that one out of five students in both District 16 and District 23 were reported as homeless within the last five years. This is in contrast to the one out of eight students who have experienced homelessness within the past five years in the whole of New York City.
KCP polled the leading candidates in the race including Community Board 3 District Manager Henry Butler, former Female Democratic District Leader Alicka Samuel, current Male Democratic District Leader Cory Provost and Community Activist Deidre Olivera on their views with this issue. Only Butler and Samuel responded.
“It is our responsibility to help children perform their best in school and live up to their full potential. My focus has always been to build a healthy community. When elected to the NYC Council, I will work to bring funding and resources to our district focusing on wraparound services for the children and their families,” said Samuel, who worked as a case manager for homeless individuals and saw firsthand how hard it could be trying to navigate through NYC’s shelter system.
“We need a holistic approach to deal with the needs and interests of homeless students. We need to ensure that families can easily travel from housing placements to their child’s school while ensuring all educational and psychosocial needs are addressed daily. All while increasing affordable housing units for low- and extremely low-income families. The immediate fix is making sure children get to the school building and helping families remain in the area,” she added.
Samuel said the effects of homelessness have been an ongoing issue in the district for quite some time. In 2004, studies revealed that families from (zip code) 11212 were entering the shelter system at alarming rates, she said.
“This is why I worked for a community-based organization in Brownsville providing eviction prevention services such as rental arrear payments to families facing evictions from NYCHA. Many of us are just a paycheck away from being homeless. The key to solving homelessness is funding eviction prevention services. What this (ICPH) study shows is the deep impact and effect homelessness has on children, but it’s what we already know,” Samuel said.
Butler said the keys to ending youth homelessness is a multipronged approach that must include providing incentives for nonprofits and the private sector to invest in economically disenfranchised communities while also creating truly affordable housing that gives preference to community residents so they can have the stability needed to raise their families.
“At the same time, we must focus on increasing employment opportunities in the area and adding funding for our schools and after-school programs so they have the added resources needed to turn failing schools around,” said Butler.