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Migrants evicted from shelters in NYC: “This is not the American dream. This is a nightmare”

About 3,500 migrant families in New York City shelters have received eviction notices. The children will have to change schools, The New York Times reports.

Since last summer, tens of thousands of migrant families living in homeless shelters have enrolled their children in New York City schools. Their arrival revitalised a system that was losing students and prompted the mayor to declare that “public schools are coming back.”

But now the city is forcing many of these families to reapply for shelter spaces, jeopardising what educators say is a hard-won and fragile stability for migrant children, many of whom have experienced upheaval and trauma on their journey to America.

Families who have received eviction notices must leave their place of residence from November and request new accommodation. It is not yet clear whether they will be immediately given places and whether the new shelters will be in the same neighbourhoods.

The orders come amid a continuing influx of refugees from the southern border, and Mayor Eric Adams is keen to get people to leave the strained homeless shelter system more quickly. But school officials said in interviews that the policy could lead to the biggest disruption since school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Homeless families have a federal right to keep their children in the same school when they move, in part because a mid-year transfer can be disruptive to students, interrupting their academic progress and relationships with teachers and friends.

But teachers worry that absences could rise even in families who choose to stay in the same school if they are placed in remote shelters and children have a long commute to school.

On Thursday, elected officials, including the city controller, the public advocate and a third of the city council, demanded in a letter to Mr Adams that the policy be reversed. Rosa Diaz, a parent leader whose East Harlem district has received thousands of migrant students, said:

 “I can’t stop thinking about the trauma this is going to cause.”

Under the court order, the city is required to provide a bed to any homeless person who requests one. Mayor Adams has repeatedly warned that New York City cannot keep up with the cost of housing and caring for migrants.

More than 157,000 migrants have arrived in the city since last year, and more than 67,000 are now in shelters. Officials say the 60-day limits on shelter stays are meant to help free up space. In September, the city imposed 30-day limits on single adult migrants staying in shelters, and most of them did not reapply for placement after the deadline.

The 60-day policy does not yet apply to families living in many shelters, where the city needs state permission to send out eviction notices. But starting next month, families living in several shelters must pack up and leave to reapply for housing at the Roosevelt Hotel reception centre in Midtown.

A new sheltering plan has caused chaotic turmoil in some parts of the school system. In Queens, a school principal fears that children who have finally begun to trust school staff will once again be thrown into turmoil.

Since last year, New York City schools have added more than 33,000 new homeless students, most of them migrants. The system relies heavily on principals, parents and community groups to coordinate support.

Many schools still assess children’s progress, tracking gaps in learning and spotting signs of potential disabilities. But educators fear that if students move and transfer to other schools, those efforts will be undone and a fresh start will have to be made.

At Central Park East II School in Upper Manhattan, some of the five dozen migrant children have had trouble concentrating in class lately, said Jeanette Fraser, who works for Children’s Aid, a nonprofit that helps students at the school.

She said one girl concerned about her family being evicted from the shelter told her last week:

“This is not the American dream. This is a nightmare.”

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