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Rainn, Brooke, and Tai Sheppard (left to right) practice at a track near their home.

M. Elizabeth Dixson

On the Right Track

These young track stars were homeless for more than a year—but they didn’t let that keep them down.

Nearly every afternoon, Tai, Rainn, and Brooke Sheppard head to track practice. The sisters are three of the top young track-and-field athletes in the country. But for almost two years, there was something they wanted even more than trophies: a home. Twelve-year-old Tai and her sisters Rainn, 11, and Brooke, 10, were homeless. 

Despite their difficulties, the sisters stayed positive. They worked hard in school and got good grades—and they excelled at track. Earlier this year, their running talent helped them get a new home. 

Nearly every afternoon, Tai, Rainn, and Brooke Sheppard head to track practice. The sisters are three of the top young track-and-field athletes in the country. But for almost two years, there was something they wanted even more than trophies: a home. Twelve-year-old Tai and her sisters Rainn, 11, and Brooke, 10, were homeless.

Despite their difficulties, the sisters stayed positive. They worked hard in school. They got good grades. And, they excelled at track. Earlier this year, their running talent helped them
get a new home. 

On Their Own

The family had lived in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York, for nearly 10 years. The girls’ mom, Tonia Handy, had a job answering phones at a taxi company. But she wasn’t making enough money to pay the rent. In September 2015, the family was evicted from their apartment. They had no choice but to move into a homeless shelter nearby. The three sisters were unsure if they would ever again have a home of their own.

“I felt embarrassed because the girls would have to carry this burden,” Tonia explains.

Unfortunately, many other kids are in similar situations. 

In the United States each year, at least 1.3 million kids under the age of 18 face a period of homelessness.

The family had lived in an apartment for nearly 10 years. It was in Brooklyn, New York. The girls’ mom, Tonia Handy, had a job answering phones at a taxi company. But she wasn’t making enough money to pay the rent. In September 2015, the family was evicted from their apartment. They had to move into a homeless shelter nearby. The three sisters were unsure if they would ever again have a home of their own.

“I felt embarrassed because the girls would have to carry this burden,” Tonia explains.

Unfortunately, many other kids are in similar situations. In the United States each year, at least 1.3 million kids under the age of 18 face a period of homelessness.

Richard Drew/AP Images

The Sheppard sisters and their mom walk from track practice back to the homeless shelter in 2016.

You might never have guessed that the Sheppard sisters were homeless.

“When you say ‘homeless,’ you think of people sleeping on the street,” says Jean Bell, the girls’ track coach.

In fact, most homeless people don’t sleep outside. Instead, they often move around between motels, shelters, and relatives’ or friends’ couches. Like Tonia, many homeless people have jobs, but they don’t make enough money to be able to afford a place to live. 

Living in the shelter wasn’t easy for the family. They had to check out early each morning and check back in by 8 p.m. each night. The girls say the place was crawling with rats and cockroaches. 

They also had to share a bathroom with the other families on their floor. The three sisters and their mom all had to sleep in two beds that were pushed together. 

“It was stressful for us,” says Brooke.

You might never have guessed that the Sheppard sisters were homeless.

“When you say ‘homeless,’ you think of people sleeping on the street,” says Jean Bell. She is the girls’ track coach.

In fact, most homeless people don’t sleep outside. Instead, they often move around between motels, shelters, and relatives’ or friends’ couches. Like Tonia, many homeless people have jobs. But, they often don’t make enough money to be able to afford a place to live.

Living in the shelter wasn’t easy for the family. They had to check out early each morning. They had to check back in by 8 p.m. each night. The girls say the place was crawling with rats and cockroaches.

They also had to share a bathroom with the other families on their floor. The three sisters and their mom all had to sleep in two beds that were pushed together.

“It was stressful for us,” says Brooke. 

At Home on the Track

Though they didn’t have a place to call their own, the girls found a different kind of home on the track. They had joined the Jeuness Track Club a few months before they were evicted. Before long, the girls were racking up awards.

The sisters began appearing on TV talk shows and doing magazine interviews. People all over the country heard their inspiring story, including the filmmaker Tyler Perry. He offered to pay the rent on a new apartment for two years. In April, the family finally moved out of the shelter and into their new home. The best part?

“We all have our own beds!” says Tai.

Though they didn’t have a place to call their own, the girls found a different kind of home on the track. They had joined the Jeuness Track Club a few months before they were evicted. Before long, the girls were racking up awards.

The sisters began appearing on TV talk shows. They also did magazine interviews. People all over the country heard their inspiring story. The filmmaker Tyler Perry also found out about them. He offered to pay the rent on a new apartment for two years. In April, the family finally moved out of the shelter. They settled into their new home. The best part?

“We all have our own beds!” says Tai.

M. Elizabeth Dixson

The Sheppard sisters in their new bedroom

Also, Tonia got a higher-paying job at a local hospital. So she will be able to afford the rent after the two years are up.

No matter where the girls live, track remains a big part of their lives. This past summer, they competed at the Junior Olympics for the third year in a row. They raced against some of the top young runners in the U.S. Tai, Rainn, and Brooke each won medals.

The girls realize that many homeless families aren’t as fortunate as they are. They say they won’t forget that.

“We worked very hard to be where we are now, and we won’t stop trying hard,” says Rainn.

Also, Tonia got a higher-paying job at a local hospital. So she will be able to afford the rent after the two years are up.

No matter where the girls live, track remains a big part of their lives. This past summer, they competed at the Junior Olympics for the third year in a row. They raced against some of the top young runners in the U.S. Tai, Rainn, and Brooke each won medals.

The girls realize that many homeless families aren’t as fortunate as they are. They say they won’t forget that.

“We worked very hard to be where we are now, and we won’t stop trying hard,” says Rainn. 

1. How did the Sheppard sisters end up living in a homeless shelter?

2. Use details from the article to explain why life in the homeless shelter was hard for the family.

3. What is the meaning of the subheading “At Home on the Track”?

4. How is life different for the Sheppard sisters now? How do they feel about the changes?

1. How did the Sheppard sisters end up living in a homeless shelter?

2. Use details from the article to explain why life in the homeless shelter was hard for the family.

3. What is the meaning of the subheading “At Home on the Track”?

4. How is life different for the Sheppard sisters now? How do they feel about the changes?

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