Number of homeless children in New York City growing

Number of homeless children in New York City growing

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NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

They're just like other kids except they have a secret. They are homeless.  Children are living hidden lives in plain sight. They are part a growing number of low income families who find themselves with no way out but they are working hard to find a solution.

It's a big issue. And it's growing. More than 23,000 children sleep in homeless shelters every night, an all-time high, according to the Coalition for the Homeless. But the numbers don't tell the whole story.

Wayne Brown Jr., 10, nicknamed Lil Wayne, makes jokes and seems happy when he entertains us with his rapping skills. But his dad said living in a Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, homeless shelter for the last four years is robbing him of his childhood.

"He's starting to get stressed, he's like 'Daddy, when are we going to get our own place?'" Wayne Brown Sr. said. "That's bad for a kid."

With rents rising fast in Brooklyn, there are few options for the single dad. Even playtime isn't carefree for his son. He plays basketball in front of the shelter, using old tires for hoops. But he is upset because he said the shelter security keeps a fully equipped playground -- complete with a slide -- locked off to them.

"They got a backyard you could play at but they never open it. They say they lost the key," Wayne Jr. said. "I think they should open the park and tell the truth."

A representative from the Department of Homeless Services told me the playground was closed because of a fallen tree limb.

The other kids in his class don't know he lives in a shelter.

"Because they're going to try and make fun of me but in my heart I know I'm a good person and I don't care if they make fun of me because I know I'm going to get out of the shelter," he said.

But then a moment later, he turned sad and it seemed like an impossible dream.

"I feel like I'm missing having good times," he said. "I can't have good times here."

Working and making the money to get out isn't as easy as it sounds. Shelter rules are strictly enforced. Residents have a curfew, and if they come back late, even from work, they can be kicked out. No guests are allowed inside, not even babysitters.

It's a challenge for parents like Ciprian Noel who works as a security guard. He is trying to save money to get back into an apartment.

"It's a real fight as a single father," he said.

He gets some help from a relative who watches his four children while he works. They've been in the shelter for three years. The kids -- who range in age from 6 to 10 -- told me they want to be TV meteorologists.

Noel told me he is determined they have as happy a childhood as possible. He wants them to know they're loved and can achieve their goals with education and discipline, just like anyone else. He said he tries to take them out of the shelter when he can to have a meal and have fun.

We were just about done talking when Isaiah, 6, asked me if he could say one more thing.

"I just want to thank you for enjoying us so we could say something and we could have a turn," he said.

The DHS representative also said the department tries to accommodate working shelter residents, and is looking at better ways to transition people into permanent housing.

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