According to the New York Times, the top reason why New York Mayor Bill de Blasio refuses to shut down the city's public schools — in light of warnings from public health officials during the growing COVID-19 pandemic — is because the five boroughs are home to 114,000 homeless children who would have nowhere else to go.
"That is why the city's public schools will probably stay open even if the new coronavirus becomes more widespread in New York." wrote the Times describing the reasoning behind de Blasio and city officials' decision.
If this statistic were true, it would mean that one out of every 10 children in the New York public school system lives in the streets or goes back to a homeless shelter after a day of classes, which would indeed be a legitimate concern when deciding whether to temporarily close the country's largest school district.
Except there are not 114,000 homeless children in New York City — at least not in the way most people understand the word "homeless." In fact, the real number is not even close to that.
Where did de Blasio get the 114k figure?
De Blasio appears to be basing his decision on a widely publicized report by a local non-profit, Advocates for Children, that found there are 114,000 homeless children in the city using data from the state's education department.
"If the students who were homeless in New York City made up their own school district, it would be one of the 30 largest school districts in the nation," Randi Levine, policy director of Advocates for Children of New York, said at the time the report was released last fall. "It's double the size of the entire Boston public school system."
This is correct, but the group is using a fairly broad definition of "homeless" that includes kids who reside with relatives and loved ones. Their liberal use of "homeless" may be consistent with certain federal guidelines and appropriate in academic settings, but it is not the way the term is colloquially used or understood.
The real number is much smaller
The vast majority of the 114,000 children described as "homeless" in their study are not living on the streets or in homeless shelters, as CBS News reported in October 2019. Even Advocates for Children's own press release clearly states that 80,000 of those 114,000 children — or 70 percent of them — are temporarily staying with family or friends. While these are not ideal housing scenarios, they do not pose the same public health and safety risks as having 114,000 children staying in crowded homeless shelters during a deadly outbreak.
The current number of homeless children in New York City may even be less than one-fifth the size of the figure de Blasio is citing. According to a fact sheet published by Coalition for the Homeless: "In December 2019, there were 62,590 homeless people, including 14,792 homeless families with 22,013 homeless children, sleeping each night in the New York City municipal shelter system," stated the non-profit based on data it obtained directly from the city.
Obviously, none of this is to suggest that it is acceptable there are thousands of homeless children in New York City — regardless of whether the number is 22,000 or 34,000. We have a moral obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of every one of these children and their families is a major factor in any and all public policy decisions, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
What it does demonstrate is the degree to which the progressive left's tendency to overstate misery distorts our perceptions of America's welfare, and can seriously impair what should be sober public policy judgments. In this case, de Blasio's exaggerations could prove fatal for New Yorkers.