The Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter (NCS) announced the launch of its NCS Scholars pilot program Thursday, Dec. 8, in Long Island City. The program will provide housing to City University of New York (CUNY) students who are experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness.
Among those in attendance at Thursday’s press conference announcing the program were Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Councilwoman Julie Won, CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez and NCS Chief Executive Officer Ann Shalof. Also present was Isabella Zaldaña, an undergraduate nursing student at Medgar Evers College, who will be benefiting from the pilot program.
“Being a nursing student is challenging, especially when balancing school, work and many other responsibilities,” Zaldaña said. “Having stable housing where I can focus on my education and live with other college students just like me has already made a world of difference. The Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter Scholars Pilot Program is giving me the opportunity to succeed.”
According to Rodríguez, approximately 98% of CUNY students commute to school rather than residing in dorms. He noted that some of these students were facing food and home insecurity, as well as transportation issues, which could each have a negative impact on their studies.
“Programs like this are exactly the kind of innovation this city needs,” Chancellor Rodríguez said. “It’s so beautiful when you see things done right for individuals who are talented, smart, deserving, full of ambition, full of aspirations and full of every kind of tool to get [successful], but don’t have the means to be able to do that. Programs like this provide something that every student needs: an anchor.”
This pilot program will house the students throughout the year. Among those who will benefit from it are 13 students from Medgar Evers College. The Long Island City apartment building they’ll be occupying is capable of housing up to 36 students.
In addition to providing housing, the pilot program also provides these students with on-site support for issues associated with housing insecurity. NCS hopes to create a blueprint that can be expanded throughout CUNY and beyond to address student homelessness.
“We are here to make sure that not only do the students have a place to sleep, but that they’re accessing the services that they need,” Shalof said. “Whether we provide it or their college transitions provide it or they find it in the community, that’s part of this program.”
Richards said he faced a similar situation to these students when he went to college. He said he would often sleep on his friend’s couch as he tried to make it through school and his job as a New York City Council staffer. He’d have to commute to school from Far Rockaway, estimating the travel time to be around two and a half hours.
“To see a program like this come into fruition really is a game changer in every way for students looking for an opportunity to finish their education,” Richards said. “This should motivate us to do more of this. After all, people in our shelter system aren’t faceless or nameless. As we invest in long-term solutions in boosting our affordable and supportive housing stock in Queens, we also need short-term solutions. That’s why this pilot program is so critical, and I couldn’t be prouder to support NCS in their critical efforts to house those seeking higher education.”
According to a 2019 survey conducted by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, 55% of CUNY students experienced housing insecurity. Of that group, 18% in the community colleges and 14% in CUNY overall had been homeless in the previous year. A survey in 2020 found that 14% of college students across the country experience homelessness and 48% experience housing insecurity.
“I commend the Neighborhood Coalition for Shelter for collaborating with CUNY on this pilot program that will provide housing for our college students in shelters,” Won said. “Providing wraparound services and resources for these students through the NCS Scholars program is key to their success, but we must provide stable and affordable housing to solve the root of this problem. I will continue to fight for more supportive housing in my district and push for new and innovative social housing solutions for our city.”
Funding for the pilot was provided by Trinity Church Wall Street Philanthropies, the Graduate NYC College Completion Innovation Fund and other private funders.