My first foray into social services was as a night volunteer in a homeless shelter. I particularly remember one bright and vivacious 12-year-old girl. The two of us sometimes talked during dinner. As we talked, her little brother would buzz around us, using language and gestures more suited to the Navy than to his preschool. Her parents were puzzlingly limited. I would sometimes help them with simple tasks such as assembling their children’s Christmas toys. They angered easily, with predictable results. In the middle of all this family chaos was this calm and resilient young girl. She made me a fantastic playful picture depicting a punked-out teenager with multiple piercings. I had no idea how to help her.
I thought about her as I read the initial installments of Andrea Elliott’s amazing, heartbreaking New York Times profile of another middle-schooler named Dasani, who lives in a homeless shelter called Auburn Family Residence, in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene section. Dasani shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and her seven siblings. She’s one of 280 children in this huge and forbidding structure. I don’t know that we’re sure how to help her, either.
Homelessness raises many issues that don’t fit cleanly into the grooves of any political parable. Their lives – and their problems — are complicated and particular.
Dasani’s story is often cited to symbolize New York’s glaring inequality and the shortage of affordable housing in the Big Apple. Fort Greene is one of New York’s most rapidly gentrifying communities. Dasani and her family regularly pass million-dollar row-houses, in streets where low-end groceries coexist with places offering $740 bottles of wines. In a time of unparalleled wealth, rents have been rising while the bottom has fallen out of the low-wage economy. Not coincidentally, the number of homeless New York children has swelled to 22,000. Dasani’s destitute mother, Chanel, and her step-father, Supreme, certainly can’t afford market-rate housing.
Read more at The Washington Post / Wonkblog