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BRANSON NEWS: This summer, millions of vacationers are expected to visit Branson, Mo., to see acts like singer Tony Orlando or the Oak Ridge Boys. It’s boom time for the tourist destination, but for many of the workers who keep the good times rolling, a severe shortage of affordable housing forces them into rundown extended stay motels. The main strip of Branson, in southern Missouri, is lined with miles and miles of all the miniature golf, bumper cars, fudge shops, custard stands and music theaters that a vacationing family could wish for. Branson became internationally famous in the ’90s for nightly shows by performers such as singer Andy Williams and comedian Yakov Smirnoff. The town of 11,000 people was hit hard during the recession, but it’s bounced back and now welcomes more than 8 million tourists each year. Shannon Cronin works as a waitress in a Branson restaurant and says she loves being part of the action. “I love to hear where people are coming from,” Cronin says. “You get to know someone even with five minutes of talking. Where are you from? Why are you here? You kind of get to escape.” Escape from a hand-to-mouth existence where workers like Cronin barely scrape by. At the end of the day, she returns to a musty extended stay motel where she and her three children and pets live. Their one room has a single king-size bed where the family sleeps together. She does laundry in the bathtub. For a kitchen, they have a mini-fridge and a microwave. Outside, drug dealers and prostitutes stalk the parking lot. Cronin says raising her kids in seedy motels like this for the last six years has changed the way she thinks about parenting. “You get scared about whether they should even not be in your hands for …
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