News Articles

The Challenge for the Homeless Student and How Catholic Charities Helps

student graduating high school
Photo Credit: Princess, Unsplash

by Jim Sliney Jr.

3 Min Read. Back in March of 2019 Catholic Charities of New York told you about an NYU study that found that more than 10,000 kids who started kindergarten in 2012 were homeless at some point before fifth- grade. That is 1 in 8 children. Of those, nearly a quarter were homeless for the entire 5-year period.

Research from also shows that during the 2016-17 school year, 75% of the students experiencing homelessness are “doubling up” with other families, while others were in shelters (15 percent), hotels/motels (7 percent), or were unsheltered (4 percent). Of the unaccompanied children the overwhelming majority were between 13 – 17 years old, which is the right in the high school range. Facing such challenges, how can homeless children succeed?


In late June, New York City’s Department of Homeless Services honored more than 100 high school graduates from this year who made it through high school while being homeless. Many of whom are headed off to college.

In a news release, New York Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio said, "The strength and resilience of these young people is inspiring. And it is this same strength and resilience that has prepared them for anything and will propel them forward as they join our next generation of future leaders."


First, we have to acknowledge what the impact of homelessness is on youths. They are overcoming problem such as:

  • Chronic health conditions like asthma and anemia without adequate medical care
  • Risky behaviors like smoking or early sexual activity
  • Addiction disorders
  • Exposure to environmental toxins like lead
  • Negative impact on physical, social, emotional and cognitive development
  • Depression, anxiety, PTSD and other emotional problems that would benefit from professional care

The City of New York provides a centralized intake system through the Department of Homeless Services. This is the ‘shelter system’ we New Yorkers see but know little about. There are Drop-In Centers that provide meals, showers, laundry and clothing. Less common are the overnight shelters which can be hard to access.


One of the 5 core missions of the Catholic Charities of New York is to protect and nurture children and youth. The many services of CCNY provide stable environments, family unity and reunification, as well as a variety of educational resources. These include:

  • Catholic Youth Organizations (CYO) Sports and Youth Programs
  • Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts
  • Catholic Big Sisters and Big Brothers
  • The community centers of the Catholic Charity Community Services network

Ever providing motivation, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of New York wrote in a recent tweet, “Sunday morning- the Lord’s Day. One of his daughters sleeps on the streets. Let’s not only pray, but work harder to find decent housing for all his daughters and sons - our sisters and brothers”. This mission is alive and strong.

@MsgrKSullivan's tweet
Follow @MsgrKSullivan on Twitter


Of course, in order for a child to succeed in life (education included) there needs to be a reliable emergency service in place like CCNY’s Crisis Intervention Centers & Services.

A great example of a beacon for those in peril is Covenant House. An affiliate of Catholic Charities, Covenant House focusses on providing:

  • Shelter and care for homeless youth
  • Direct care, advocacy and research for the victims of human trafficking
  • Continuum of Care – on-the-street outreach, crisis care and long-term support
  • Employment and Education programs
  • Transitional housing

A worsening problem requires a noble mission that continues to grow. Speaking about their new Take Notice campaign, Covenant House New York’s own Nancy Downing said, "For over four decades, youth overcoming homelessness in New York City have found safety and shelter from the streets at Covenant House New York. Now, for the first time in our history, we'll be designing a new residential facility designed to the particular needs of our young people, allowing us to provide robust services and coordinated care, expanding the scope of our work and the number of young people we can serve."

As long as there is need, the Catholic Charities will be providing help and creating hope. 

You can learn more about the effects of poverty, hunger and homelessness on children and youth here.