When Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office a little over eight years ago, homelessness was prominent on his agenda. Bloomberg vowed to attack the problem with the same mix of statistical research and methodical planning that he applied to crime rates and other policy areas, and promised to reduce homelessness by two thirds. But in fact, homelessness has spiked under Bloomberg’s watch. Current New York City homeless levels are the worst since the Great Depression. On this site, we explore a particularly vulnerable population: homeless youth and their families.

Bloomberg and other city officials blame higher homeless rates on the recession, which officially started at the end of 2007, but even before then the number of homeless had been high. Homeless advocates say a homelessness is a complex issue with many contributing factors, including budget cuts for assistance programs, a lack of affordable housing, and mental health and other issues. Today, there are just over 38,000 people in the New York City shelter system. Of those, 15,570 are children.

Homeless children and students are a population often overlooked. Some estimates say that more than 40% of all homeless people in America are part of homeless families, and perhaps more than 1 million youth are homeless in the U.S. In New York City, agencies are scrambling to meet the needs of the growing number of homeless families and youth.

According to Department of Education and Department of Homeless Services data, the percent of homeless students in an average New York City community district has increased several percentage points over the past three years, placing a strain on limited resources even as budget cuts may threaten programming funds for both public and private agencies that serve homeless youth and families.

The effects of homelessness on children can be staggering. Mental health issues are often created or exacerbated by a stressful living situation, particularly if a child’s parent is also affected by mental health problems. The stress and instability of homelessness can permanently stunt the educational growth of homeless children.

Shelter life can be particularly confusing and stressful on top of homelessness on its own. Cycles of paperwork and bureaucratic requirements, the uncertainty of the future: all combine to create enormous amounts of pressure and stress even as they seek to ameliorate the problems that contribute to homelessness and poverty.

The costs of homelessness are not just mental and social, however. Parents often juggle job searches with childcare arrangements, paying for specialized care if their children require it, educational fees, public transportation costs, and moving costs, as well. For many homeless families, these costs are the last straw in a difficult and seemingly endless cycle of poverty and homelessness.

On this site, all of the topics above are explored in an investigation of shelter life, a confusing and frustrating process; the educational policy that aims to guarantee a good education for homeless youth; the data and statistics upon which we built our project; and perhaps most important, the voices of the youth, parents and advocates who deal with the realities of homeless life every day. Each category, which you can also see in the navigation bar just below the logo, has multiple posts examining a different angle and contributing many sources.

The site was researched, produced and built by a team of students at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.