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Work Or Online Learning? Homeless Families Face An Impossible Choice : NPR

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Freda and her 9-year-old son visit the Purple People Bridge in Cincinnati. She and her five children have been living in the front room of a friend’s apartment, sleeping on pads of bunched-up comforters.

Maddie McGarvey for NPR


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Maddie McGarvey for NPR

Freda and her 9-year-old son visit the Purple People Bridge in Cincinnati. She and her five children have been living in the front room of a friend’s apartment, sleeping on pads of bunched-up comforters.

Maddie McGarvey for NPR

The closure of school buildings in response to the coronavirus has been disruptive and inconvenient for many families, but for those living in homeless shelters or hotel rooms — including roughly 1.5 million school-aged children — the shuttering of classrooms and cafeterias has been disastrous.

For Rachel, a 17-year-old sharing a hotel room in Cincinnati with her mother, the disaster has been academic. Her school gave her a laptop, but “hotel Wi-Fi is the worst,” she says. “Every three seconds [my teacher is] like, ‘Rachel, you’re glitching. Rachel, you’re not moving.'”

For Vanessa Shefer, the disaster has made her feel “defeated.” Since May, when the family home burned, she and her four children have stayed in a hotel, a campground and recently left rural New Hampshire to stay with extended family in St. Johnsbury, Vt. Her kids ask, “When are we going to have a home?” But Shefer says she can’t afford a “home” without a good-paying job, and she can’t get a job while her kids need help with school.

For this story, NPR spoke with students, parents, caregivers, shelter managers and school leaders across the country about what it means, in this moment, to be homeless and schoolless.

Vanessa Shefer (right) walks with her family along the Passumpsic River in St. Johnsbury, Vt.

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