Locked Out of Remote School: In shelters without Wi-Fi, homeless kids can’t even get online for class.

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Lack of Wi-Fi access has been plaguing New York City’s shelters for unhoused families for seven months now, where some 13,500 school-aged children of the 100,000 students in temporary housing citywide, have been enrolled in remote education since March. When schools initially shut down, the city sent hundreds of thousands of iPads with cell service to kids in shelters, but not all families received them, and those that did quickly began complaining that their connections were spotty, if they worked at all. The problem worsened this summer, and on Oct 8, Legal Aid sent a letter to city officials demanding that they address the issue, which had been jostled between the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Education. There was a lot of inter-departmental “finger pointing,” says Susan Horwitz, the Supervising Attorney of Legal Aid’s Education Law Project. The DOE said they were just responsible for distributing the tablets, while it’s DHS’s job to get cell service working in shelters; DHS representatives and case workers at shelters, conversely, told residents to talk to the DOE. “You could sort of draw your own conclusions about the fact that getting the people who are living in shelters online is not a priority,” says Horwitz.

That families would not only be burdened by remote schooling during a deadly pandemic but by the lack of something as basic as internet access seems hard to believe in 2020. “You’re providing the street, the literal street, Wi-Fi,” says Christlie, a 33-year-old mother of two living in the Regents Family Residence on the Upper West Side, “but you won’t provide the shelters? Not just for the kids’ education. The whole purpose [of temporary city shelters] is to help assist residents here to find permanent housing. How do you do that when you can’t provide the internet? How do they look for apartments, look for a job?” Especially in the midst of a crisis that has impacted poor Black and brown New Yorkers the hardest, providing Wi-Fi seems like an obvious equalizer. “That little bit of support that would definitely help a lot of people,” Christlie says.

Locked Out of Remote School In shelters without Wi-Fi, homeless kids can’t even get online for class.