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The students we’re not talking about: the ones experiencing homelessness

Every new year, people wish to have a better year with different goals set to complete, everything positive. Since 2019, people have been seeing China deal with the highly contagious coronavirus. The questions that some people have asked is:

“Are we going to let it spread to our own country?”

“Are we prepared for that virus?”

“What should we do?”

When COVID-19 arrived in the US, it was bad news because leaders knew it would be chaotic, like on the trains, school, college, and other places where it would be easy to catch the virus. My biggest concern is those people who are experiencing homelessness and do not have a place that they can quarantine. Some people who live in shelters do not have good hygiene and can be prone to catching the virus and contaminating other people.

Students that are living in shelters are at a huge disadvantage given the limitations to working from “home.” A student experiencing homelessness has to rely on the school as a place to work and do everything from homework to work. With COVID-19, schools, libraries, and workplaces are now closed, leaving the student with no place to work. In addition, shelters have a no laptop rule so students need to find a way to use a computer outside of the shelter. Now that classes are online, it is scary for homeless students, as they may have trouble completing homework and taking tests. Online classes are not the issue. The issue is that those who cannot use a laptop or computer in places like shelters for a time of crisis are at a significant disadvantage.

These regulations were created to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives. However, it was not fully thought out to consider students experiencing homelessness living in shelters who now have to go outside and risk their health to attend classes and complete assignments.

The Lehman College Campus is not planning to open its facility to students to do homework or anything else. This is a huge detriment to students experiencing homelessness, but also students that need access to a computer and Internet. If the college opened up even a small area within the university, it would allow these students the space and technology to complete their work. It would also provide a quiet space that is less stressful and easier to do work.

In addition to challenges with accessing the campus and technology, there is additional stress given the financial implications of lost jobs. In fact, student campus jobs, such as those serving as peer mentors have been cancelled, leaving students without the necessary income to support themselves. This negatively impacts their mental health. This is especially challenging for students in shelters that don’t have a permanent place to stay.

My feelings about this are not too good because you never know how it would affect you. Although we read the news about the school closures and move to online instruction, there is little documented about what this means for college students living in shelters. Do students actually have to drop the semester classes because they don’t have a computer from which to work? And how will this affect their TAP and federal aid? This is something that leaders should have in my mind.

Zaret Cortorreal is a junior at Lehman College, CUNY, and a member of Young Invincibles’ Young Advocates Program.