'We had to squat at abandoned houses': Frigid temperatures leave Durham families in the cold

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- When temperatures drop and families don't have a place to stay, some families are either sleeping in their cars or abandoned buildings. One Durham woman who did not want to share her name experienced this situation with her kids.

"We had to squat at abandoned houses, and I could barely feed them," she said.

She knows what it's like to not have a warm bed to climb into. While she is living in permanent housing now, just one year ago she and her six children didn't know where they would sleep at night.

"It was a struggle. It almost broke me, but I knew that if I gave up, all that would happen was the system would take my children. That's not better than me trying to get on my feet and do better," she said.

Durham Public Schools provides families like hers with food weekly, clothes as needed and coping skills through mental health services for her second oldest who has behavioral issues.

Ebony Ross heads up the McKinney-Vento program with Durham Public Schools. She works with almost 900 homeless students to meet their needs.

"When we have students that are hungry, homeless or a place to stay at night, their focus is different. All they want is food and a place to stay. It impacts their ability to learn," said Ross.

According to Ross, those students are typically four to six months behind.

The school district provides hotel rooms to some families when sponsorships cover the cost. A DPS spokeswoman told ABC11, more than half of the schools in the district are Title 1, which means they have a high percentage of students from low-income households.

That includes the Durham mom and her six children. They are grateful that this winter they aren't left out in the cold.

"I know what it feels like. I know my children knows what it feels like," she said.
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