Lorena Morales wakes up her daughter, Adamaris Barbosa, at 5:30 in the morning. By 6:30, Adamaris should be on the school bus, to ride from the homeless shelter where she lives in the Bronx, New York City's northernmost borough, to her first-grade class at Public School 188, near her old home in Manhattan's Lower East Side neighborhood.
Adamaris doesn't like the bus ride, which can take up to two hours; neither does her mom. "Sometimes, she misses school because the bus didn't pick her up," Lorena explains, speaking in Spanish on a frigid Friday morning in early February, the day after a snowstorm had caused the city's schools to close. "Sometimes, they call me very late to inform me that they're not picking her up. Sometimes, they come to pick her up at 8:30 in the morning. That affects her."
Lorena, now twenty-six years old, came to New York City from Mexico seven years ago. This past fall, she moved from a rented room on the Lower East Side to the Bronx shelter on 243rd Street. When she lived on the Lower East Side, she had a job in a deli--cleaning, helping the cook, a little bit of everything. She moved to a different room after her relationship with the woman in whose apartment she lived soured following an argument about money. After problems with the couple from whom she rented next, she ended up entering the shelter system.
Lorena doesn't speak English and hasn't obtained a work permit. With these obstacles, and needing to take care of her daughter, she hasn't been able to find another job.
Last year, Adamaris attended kindergarten at PS 188, better known as the Island School. When the city's Department of Homeless Services placed her and her mother in a shelter in a different borough, they had the choice of transferring to a school in the new neighborhood or staying at the same school and getting bus service. Lorena chose the latter. "I like the education here, the system of learning," she says. "I don't know anything in the Bronx."
The Island School has many students in similar circumstances. Forty-three percent of its 477 elementary and middle school students live in temporary housing, according to Principal Suany Ramos. Thirty-two percent have a disability and 28 percent are English-language learners. Some of those students have a much shorter commute than Adamaris--a family homeless shelter is located just across the street. Two other shelters are within walking distance.
According to a 2016 report from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, a New York City-based research organization, one out of seven students in the city's School District 1, which includes the Island School, has been homeless at some point in the last five years.
But Adamaris is also not unique in her long commute: Ramos says that many families living in shelters in different city boroughs, such as Queens and Staten Island, choose to remain enrolled at the Island School, regardless of the distance traversed daily.
In December 2016,24,076 children slept in the city's shelter system, according to Coalition for the Homeless, one of the nation's oldest direct-service and advocacy organizations for homeless people. In...