Homelessness Is Especially Hard on Children. Making Music Helps.

“We’re going to be making a beat,” Dannyele Crawford said as the kids settled noisily into their seats at a homeless shelter in Brooklyn.

“I want you to imagine that you live on another planet. The beat is going to be based off that.”

Six-year-old Bella Diaz and the other five children in a room lined with computers donned headphones and began choosing from hundreds of audio loops in the music software program GarageBand. The room filled with clashing, tinny riffs leaking from headsets as the pint-size producers danced and bobbed in their seats.

What the children did not know this recent Monday afternoon was that Ms. Crawford, 27, is not just a teacher. She is a music therapist, there to help children deal with the stress of not having a permanent place to call home. Since 2015, therapists who work for the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music have made regular visits to the 158-family shelter in the Brownsville neighborhood, run by the nonprofit Camba.

Dannyele Crawford showed JoAngel Diaz, left, and his sister Bella how to assemble beats using GarageBand.Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Around the city, as across the country, children and teenagers face a mental health crisis that has grown since the pandemic and has led to a spike in discipline problems. At the same time, the number of children in homeless shelters in New York has risen sharply, as tens of thousands of migrants arrive in the city.

“It’s not that easy for kids and teenagers to talk about what they’ve been through, especially while they’re going through it,” said Toby Williams, director of the conservatory’s music therapy program, which serves more than 2,000 people per year. “Music provides an opportunity for people to process trauma in a different mode of expression.”

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