How does the Covid-19 Pandemic Affect Homeless and Single-Parent Households Digitally

How does the Covid-19 Pandemic Affect Homeless and Single-Parent Households Digitally

  1.       Problem Statement

Different regions worldwide have experienced numerous disasters, such as tsunamis, drought, political wars, and economic crises. Nonetheless, apart from global warming, Covid-19 is another issue that has affected the world entirely in both developed and developing countries. In addition to the coronavirus’s health impacts, the pandemic has had profound impacts on individuals’ lives in employment and education throughout 2020 (Mahdy, 2020). The disease forced nationwide schools and libraries’ closure to prevent the spread of the virus, but this has led to an exacerbated learning crisis. Currently, individuals engage in digital or distance learning but have everybody been able to adopt this change (Mahdy, 2020).  COVID-19’s impact on the way libraries traditionally engage with the public has resulted in some less than orthodox methods for maximizing response to community needs, such as taking library programming online or offering curbside pickup and electronic resources as an alternative to in-person visits. However, limited or zero access to much-needed services such as computer access, educational training, technology support, and assistance alongside the social safety net libraries provide for marginalized and underserved populations has impacted the ability of libraries to offer equitable distribution of resources while also contributing to a widening of the digital divide.

  1. History

On March 17th, 2020, the American Library Association’s Executive Board issued an emergency bulletin recommending all physical libraries’ temporary closure due to the unchecked spread of COVID-19. According to the bulletin, the decision was influenced by challenges impacting the ability of libraries to practice social distancing to the degree recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well an overwhelming concern that libraries “not serve as vectors for a fast-moving pandemic” (ALA Executive Board recommends closing libraries to the public, 2020).  Following this ALA missive, a survey conducted by the Public Library Association (PLA) of 2,545 public libraries from March 24-April 1 indicated that 98 percent of respondents had closed their doors to the public (Public Libraries Respond to COVID-19: Survey of Response & Activities, 2020). These drastic measures were tempered by individual libraries’ steps to maintain some continuity of services, which included, in many cases, an expansion of both online services and digital products. 

III. Significance of Research Area

Findings from a Pew Research study found that, since the start of the pandemic, over fifty percent of Americans consider internet access essential (Vogels et al., 2020).  Library closures negatively impact access to technological resources for those who demonstrate the most need. Despite the growth and expanded access to online resources during such a crucial time, research reflects a correlation between socioeconomic factors and the use of online library resources with disparities in the use of digital resources among families divided along the lines of education and income (Jaeger & Blaabaek, 2020). We propose to (1) evaluate the digital divide created by the absence of neighborhood branches allowing patrons access to computer and internet services within the physical library, focusing specifically on the distance learning technology needs of younger patrons for school use, (2) explore the ramifications of the contradictory effect expanded online access have had on the ability of public libraries to provide continuous equitable access to library resources during the pandemic, (3) examine the ways in which outreach has evolved to meet the needs of those who are physically isolated and for whom digital access was difficult prior to the onset of COVID-19, and (4) explore how the closure of public libraries, in an effort to prevent the spread of the disease, has impacted vulnerable, disenfranchised and underserved populations.

  1. Distance Learning

Since the onset of Covid-19, students have been pulled in and out of schools as infection numbers rise and fall (Van Lancker et al., 2020). While many students have the resources to access their classes online, others are being left behind without access to the internet, compatible devices, or technologically literate adults to help facilitate online learning (Poletti M. 2020). It has been well documented that students that do not have the resources to reinforce the knowledge acquired at school, on average, lose a tenth of that knowledge during extended breaks, known within the education and information professions as the summer slide (Cooper, H. et al. 1996). With some students being out of class going on eight months since the beginning of shutdowns in the United States, we should be concerned with an extended corona slide’s repercussions. 

With these barriers presented by the coronavirus, can public libraries act as a piece of the solution to act as a bridge across the ever-expanding digital divide? By putting into practice creative solutions like that of the Kansas City Public Library spearheading a mobile Wi-Fi bus program(Evans, T. 2020) or that of the Chippewa River District Library system who have purchased more powerful routers so that patrons may use the Wi-Fi outside of the library and began offering mobile hotspots to their patrons(Haiderer, G. 2020), can we create a new way to interact with our patrons that allows them the ability to stay connected despite the barriers attributed to the coronavirus?  As each library faces its own unique issues brought on by the coronavirus, we must take the initiative to determine the steps we can take to assure that none of our students are left behind due to a lack of technological resources? 

  1. Project Goals and Objectives

The projected areas of concern, described in the section above, show an absolute need for research to get clear insights into how the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect the education sector in the United States with the schools and library closure. According to Fregni (2020), homeless children in big cities such as New York cannot meet the current digital learning requirements. Many cannot afford technological devices to support distance learning, which will greatly impact their future. In essence, this project will investigate how the pandemic has affected learning among marginalized groups, mainly the homeless and single-parent households in the United States following digital or distance learning during the pandemic. It will also investigate how public libraries can apply specific strategies to minimize the digital divide between the homeless and low-income families, and other employed individuals. It will also examine the initiatives that libraries and schools can take to ensure that none of the United States students are left behind due to a lack of technological resources or access to the internet.

  1. Research Questions

Specifically, this project aims to answer two questions, including

  • How has COVID19 affected the homeless and single-parent household digitally?
  • What can schools and libraries do to minimize the digital divide between low-income and rich families and ensure that all children have access to digital learning in the United States?

VII. Benefits and Limits of the Study 

Children are not necessarily the face of the coronavirus pandemic. However, they are at risk of being among its biggest victims. Though they have been greatly spared from the direct health impacts of the coronavirus, the disaster has had profound effects on their other aspects of lives, including social, physical and psychological lives (The United Nations, 2020). Children in the United States and other nations have been greatly impacted, especially those from marginalized populations and the poorest neighborhoods. The effects of the pandemic on children are estimated to be lifelong. The project presents certain benefits to the academic sector and the nation of the United States. More precisely, it will help individuals get a clear picture of how the pandemic has impacted individuals’ lives, especially children. Further, the project will provide an understanding of the current digital learning practices and how it has been accepted or implemented in different neighborhoods. Here, it will also help to get clear insights into the effects of the pandemic on homeless individuals and single-parent households in a time when digital learning will determine the type and quality of education that a child can get. The project will also help understand how libraries and other learning institutions respond to the lack of digital learning devices for children from homeless and single-parent families. 

Nonetheless, this project also has some limitations that may affect the outcomes and desired benefits. First, with all individuals, especially children, staying indoors or secluded to avoid getting infected, it will be difficult to recruit participants for the study. The willingness of the individuals’ to participate will also affect the efficiency and validity of the findings. It will also be difficult to recruit homeless individuals to participate in the project. To an extent, the team may have to compensate them substantially for their participation. Regardless, the project will ultimately give insights into the effect of Covid-19 on homeless individuals and single-parent households digitally.

VIII. Literature Review

With over 129,000 students (Ready, J. 2020) in Florida’s Duval county, there has been the question of how to educate students while keeping them and school staff safe during the pandemic. In fall 2020, 25,000 students are signing up to attend school completely virtually (Ready, J. 2020).  How many more families would choose to sign their children up for virtual classes but have not due to a lack of access to resources such as the internet or computer access?  If schools must close again due to the pandemic, how many students will be left without a way to access school virtually?

Homelessness and Single-parenthood

Homelessness has been a growing phenomenon in the United States, with more families and youths becoming homeless for various reasons. According to Morton et al. (2017), millions of children and youths are homeless in the U.S. and are at risk of exposure to mental and physical health problems, violence, and substance abuse. More importantly, homeless families cannot afford to take their children to school or even acquire devices that they could use to study online in the current Covid-19 pandemic when learning has become increasingly digitalized (Morton, 2017). Single-parenthood has also become more common, with more couples getting divorced while others choose to have kids without getting married. About a quarter of children in the U.S., below 18 years, live with one parent (Amato, Patterson, and Beattie, 2015). Single parents provide all the essential needs of a child and ensure that they get a good education regardless of the financial strains. However, the pandemic increased single parents’ financial issues, mainly for those whose pay was cut or lost their jobs. As a result, single parents cannot provide the necessary devices and pay for the internet to support digital learning during the pandemic.

The issue of school closures

According to Wim Van Lancker and Zachary Parolin‘s analysis COVID-19, School Closures, and Child Poverty: a Social Crisis in the Making, 80% of students worldwide have been affected by the shutdowns brought on by the spreading coronavirus(2020). Without access to the resources, space, and support structure to facilitate effective learning, students are losing the skills and knowledge they acquired at school at an alarming rate as determined by the 1996 study The Effects of Summer Vacation on Achievement Test Scores: A Narrative and Meta-Analytic Review (Cooper, H. et al.) noting that under-resourced students lost nearly a months worth of learning progress attained from the previous school year. The Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, surveying nearly 1,500 families with school-age children, discovered 37% of those families earning less than $25,000 a year do not have the resources to engage in distance learning. Many others have the resources to access distance learning but not enough to engage fully (Polikoff, M. et al.2020).

Failure of Access

The Rand Corporation recently analyzed the American Instructional Resources Survey conducted between May and June of 2020. This survey questioned 6,000 teachers specifically inquiring about the effects of the Coronavirus on their students’ ability to learn (Stelitano, L. 2020). The survey found that of teachers who taught in schools identified as serving the most impoverished students, “Only 30 percent of teachers in schools in the highest category of school poverty (76–100 percent of students eligible for FRPL) reported all or nearly all of their students had access to the internet”(Stelitano, L. 2020 Pg.3) 

Steps libraries are taking 

With the stark discrepancy of children being left without the resources to maintain their educational careers, what steps are being taken that can be evaluated and analyzed for use within the Jacksonville Public Library system? On August 25th, 2020, the Boston Public Library announced its outdoor Wi-Fi program, which expands their router capability for patrons to access the internet outside of the library. (City of Boston, 2020) Considering the extra burdens put on families throughout the coronavirus pandemic, it appears evident that any resources that can support children’s development should be applied and evaluated to maximize all students’ ability to thrive, especially during difficult times such as these. 

The role of public libraries is changing as society moves towards an increasingly technology-centered orientation; however, libraries cannot get hung up on trends. Instead, they must instead explore the relationships various user demographics have with the technologies and services offered (Mcallen et al., 2017, pg. 1). The reality is that library users engage with technology on their own terms. Applying a one-size-fits-all solution can have an adverse impact on libraries’ ability to provide equitable outcomes. The existing correlation between socioeconomic factors and the use of online services extends to library resources as well. Research completed by the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Sociology, which included “more than 55 million observations of families’ daily library takeout” (Jæger & Blaabæk, 2020, pg. 1), revealed disparities in the use of digital resources among families at opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Those more educated and better off financially being more knowledgeable and inclined to utilize such resources. Public libraries’ expansion of online access is indicative of the significance placed on internet technologies and the subsequent advantages online users gain from their financial and technological capabilities. Beaunoyer et al. warn, “Differences exist between individuals and social groups in terms of access to technologies but also in terms of their capacity to obtain benefits from their use of technology” (Beaunoyer et al., 2020, pg. 1).

Libraries are not an indulgence but can have transformative powers, particularly for the lonely, disenfranchised, and the marginalized (Clink, 2020).  Libraries have not only raised national literacy levels but have also supported families and reached out to the communities to make them both strong and cohesive. According to Elizabeth Schweitzer of the University of Calgary (2018), closing public libraries would mean closing the community’s most valued asset, which would negatively impact the community. A study by Peter Miller of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2015) shows the effects public libraries’ closure would have on communities and families, including single-parent households in the US. During this study, over sixty percent of respondents said that it would significantly negatively affect the community if their local libraries were closed.  Miller also found that the library was a perfect place to read and access various resources. Therefore, it was crucial to keep as many libraries open for as long as possible to be used significantly to serve everyone in the community.  

Libraries worldwide have implemented and offered innovative ideas for reaching people where they are and informing them of what the library has to offer.  Some examples include zines in Washington state (Smith et al., 2020, pg. 18) and suggestions of Zoom talks with historians and gardeners in South Africa (Mouton, 2020, p. 36).  The Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) suggests contacting local offices of Agencies on Aging to see if federal funds are in place to make it possible to provide Wi-Fi and devices directly to seniors in the community with the idea that “just one person with one idea can create a community of seniors through activities and space” (NNLM, 2020, 7:33).  Operating under a similar premise, librarians in Washington state seek to reach those who do not have access to the internet by encouraging patrons to document their stories as a way to help cope with the crisis now and inform generations to come.  Inspired by diaries from the 1918 flu epidemic, librarians Kelsey Smith, Sarah Peté, Linda Johns, and Abby Bass request their community submit stories that document the fears, joys, and feelings of isolation during the crisis through not only email and scanned images but through snail mail.  These stories are compiled into Quaranzines.  Zines are accessible to almost everyone, and “their celebration of the tactile, analog world” adds to their magic (Smith et al., 2020, p.18).

  1. Methodology

Methodological Issues

Covid-19 is a highly infectious disease that anybody can get when they come into contact with an infected person. Thus, researching the Covid-19 pandemic poses various issues both to the participants and researchers. More specifically, as shown in the participants’ section, the study mainly targets children and their learning experiences while undertaking distance learning during the pandemic. Interacting with different individuals during the research project increases the risk of individuals getting infected. Due to their young age and lack of experience in other studies, some people may also not understand the procedure used in the study, which may affect the overall findings. It will also be difficult to create a questionnaire, incorporating items easily understood and answered by school-going children. Also, the data collection methods used on single-parent families may not effectively collect data from homeless individuals. Homeless families, mainly children, live in bad conditions, and this problem has increased during the pandemic. In essence, they are at high risk of acquiring mental or psychological issues that may affect their studies and their overall well-being. Also, the libraries have closed most of the time. Thus, the researchers need to make an appointment to meet the employees or managers, delaying the data collection process. The project should consider these issues and choose the best methods to acquire data from both groups in the study, and make appointments in advance.

  1. Ethical Considerations

Research and projects on different issues affecting the education sector and children’s learning pose different ethical concerns. Thus, studies should be conducted within an ethical framework that respects the participants, values and the importance of the findings (Fouka and Mantzorou, 2011, p.3). More specifically, this research will focus on various ethical considerations to protect the participants and acquire the desired outcomes. This research’s major ethical concerns include informed consent, beneficience, respect for confidentiality and anonymity, and respect for privacy. The researchers will get an informed consent form signed by the participant or their guardian, allowing the use of the information they provide for the research. The project will ensure that the participants do not experience any harm related to the research, emotionally and psychologically. It will also ensure that all the personal information including their names, home addresses, and phone numbers remain anonymous and confidential throughout the research. Lastly, it will respect the participant’s privacy without pressuring them to answer questions they do not wish to answer.

  1. Data Analysis

After collecting data relevant to the research question, the researchers will then analyze the information. This will help identify the patterns, themes, and similarities among the participants and issues under research. The project will use a content analysis approach to analyze the data. Here, the approach will help acquire similar themes in the data gathered and gatherng the ideas to find the similarities and differences in the participants’ responses. In this case, the project will analyze the similarities and differences in the digital effects of Covid-19 among homeless and single-parent families, as illustrated by the participants. An SPSS software will also help to analyze the collected data. Measurable and descriptive data will be analyzed to establish patterns or trends of the effects of Covid-19 on homeless and single-parent households digitally.

XII. Conclusion

Ensuring the safety of the most vulnerable portions of the population during the COVID-19 pandemic through emphasizing programming and outreach requiring a digital connection may further widen the digital divide.  The pandemic has made it even more evident that internet access is a necessity, not a luxury.  With the shift to virtual learning, families and school districts rallied quickly to connect students with laptop distribution, but any solution short of universal internet access is inadequate.  Families without in-home internet access and other portions of the population that relied on the library for internet connection for homework, job prospects, recreation and shelter are even more vulnerable as many libraries remain closed for public safety.  Without access to the internet at local libraries or access to library buildings, new problems developed.  The homeless population and some children that consider the library a safe place no longer can find refuge within the walls of the library.  This study will research how the library can serve the most vulnerable and marginalized portion of the population during and after the pandemic by studying the effects of both digital and limited hand-on programming and by evaluating the avenues to internet access for students and those heavily affected by the digital divide despite library closures. 



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Fregni, J. (2020, July 1). What homeless students lose when schools go digital. Teach For America.

Mahdy, M. (2020). The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on the Academic Performance of Veterinary Medical Students.

Morton, M. H., Dworsky, A., Matjasko, J. L., Curry, S. R., Schlueter, D., Chávez, R., & Farrell, A. F. (2018). Prevalence and correlates of youth homelessness in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health62(1), 14-21.

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