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She wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets. A few feet away, their mother and father sleep near the mop bucket they use as a toilet. Two other children share a mattress by the rotting wall where the mice live, opposite the baby, whose crib is warmed by a hair dryer perched on a milk crate.
That is the opening graf of a powerful piece on the website of the New York Times.  The complete title is Invisible Child  Girl in the Shadows:  Dasani’s Homeless Life. It is written by  Andrea Elliott and has photographs by Ruth Fremson.  And it will tear your heart out as you grasp the real meaning of what it is for a child to be homeless.  

But this is not just a story of homelessness equaling hopelessness.  It is the story of a determined little girl, a loving if dysfunctional family, and the travails of what it really means to be homeless.

If I may, allow me to offer 3 more paragraphs from the first of five sections of this powerful iece:

Dasani’s own neighborhood, Fort Greene, is now one of gentrification’s gems. Her family lives in the Auburn Family Residence, a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers.

It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.

Please keep reading.

The piece is long, but I assure you it is worth the time to read it, to ponder it, to examine the picture.

Dasani is an enchanting young lady.

The circumstances in which she lives are partly a result of family dysfunction, but also a product of government policies.

Of greater importance, a piece like this helps one understand the impact of poverty, the reality that too many of our people must encounter each day.

I have taught homeless students.  I remember a young man from a few years ago, Phillip, very polite and well-mannered, but who would miss at least two days out of each week because he had only one set of clothes and would not come to school if he could not wash himself and them.  

I have taught students who were with their families living in cars.  As local governments became financially stressed and began curtailing the hours of rec centers and libraries, these students lost the only places to which they could go to read, to do their school work.  Some might find a mall and use its public spaces, except in large stretches of America there are no easily accessible malls.

Let me share some more about Dasani, so we remember that this is about real people, not just statistics, remembering the axiom of Stalin that the death of a single man is a tragedy but the death of millions merely a statistic:

It is something of an art to sleep among nine other people. One learns not to hear certain sounds or smell certain smells. ■ But some things still intrude on Dasani’s sleep. There is the ceaseless drip of that decaying sink, and the scratching of hungry mice. It makes no difference when the family lays out traps and hangs its food from the ceiling in a plastic bag. Auburn’s mice always return, as stubborn as the “ghetto squirrels,” in Chanel’s lingo, that forage the trash for Chinese fried chicken.

Dasani shares a twin mattress and three dresser drawers with her mischievous and portly sister, Avianna, only one year her junior.

Look at the pictures.

Imagine living in such a place, and yet trying to learn, to develop, to make something of oneself.

Ask yourself if you could maintain hope in such a situation.

Yes, there are clearly problems in the family.  One can argue that the adults have too many children.  Even if you grant that they bear a major responsibility for the poverty in which they leave, is it fair to impose the results of that upon the children?

There is so much more to this piece.  Even with a two hour delay at school because of weather and my ability to read very quickly, I have only fully read the first of the five parts.

As I did, as I looked at the pictures,  I thought of the journalism of another era, when an immigrant forced New Yorkers and others to recognize the conditions in which many new Americans were forced to live.  Jacob Riis stirred consciences with How The Other Half Lives.   Below is a relatively short video (9+ minutes) with images over which is superimposed narration of Riis's text.  Listen to the beginning and think how those words are increasingly true in our own time:

Above the fold I said this piece is about more than hopelessness, because Dasani is determined.  You will experience the struggles, but also the triumphs.  You will see determination that is able to break through what otherwise might be depression and despair.

I have as I finish this quickly skimmed the other parts, and read the conclusion of the piece.

I think back to mother's family, her mother's family coming as immigrants fleeing pogroms and arriving on the Lower East Side in the 1st decade of the last century.  They lived among those about whom Riis wrote.  My family and the families of many of those with whom I just celebrated our 50th anniversary of high school graduation managed to survive, to get through the problems.  Yet they were the beneficiaries, if not directly of government assistance, of the Settlement House program, of communal organizations like Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.  

I look at the obscene wealth of some in this nation, and how the system is perverted to enable them to maintain and expand their wealth and our unwillingness to use taxes to provide the resources so that all of our people have the opportunity to meaningful lives.  Some Dasanis will make it.  Too many will fall through the cracks, or be denied the opportunities that can provide them with a meaningful future.

The inequity applies to housing and homelessness - some have gold-plated bathroom fixtures in 60,000 square foot mansions, others live 11 to a room in a homeless shelter.

The inequity applies to nutrition - some can spend hundreds or thousands on a bottle of wine at a single meal, others are lucky when school is open so that the children at least get one good meal.

The inequity applies to health care, including dental - some get concierge medicine where the doctor might fly to visit you while you are skiing overseas, others must wait until it is a medical crisis to get stabilized in a hospital emergency room if they can get there.

The inequity applies to education - some have public schools with facilities that match the best independent schools, others are subject to narrow curricular materials and drill and kill for tests without regard for meaningful learning.

The title of the Times piece is "Invisible Child" because the Dasanis of the world are not seen by those making policy, nor are they included when so many bloviate about grand bargains and what this country needs.

Dasani and all the other homeless children are part of We the People of the United States.

They should be included.

Too often they are not.

Take the time, maybe not all in one sitting.

Read the piece.

Ponder it.

Think how lucky WE are.

And then decide how it speaks to you - what difference it will make in what you do, and whom you support politically.

Now if you will excuse me, even though it is a two hour delay, I must leave and drive to the school at which I teach, 45 miles from here.

Many of our students are poor.

Some are homeless.

And all are deserving of my respect, my best efforts as a teacher, my political commitment on their behalf, my love.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (24+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 03:15:39 AM PST

  •  Yes, empathetic people will feel bad; others (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    will look away and consider themselves fortunate. The people whom we have tasked with providing for the general welfare will excuse their negligence with the rationalization that some humans are obviously not deserving. You can see it in how they live. Serving them would be demeaning to the lofty stature our civil servants have achieved.

    There is no free lunch and, for the doubters, the experience of the homeless proves it.

    That is why I insist that our focus on the victims is fruitless. It is the perpetrators, the mismanagers, the unjust stewards, who have to be held to account. We have set up a representative democracy because hiring agents to take care of particular needs because that is a more efficient way for people to live. Moroever, if agents prove inexpert or lazy or fraudulent, they can be fired. And if people haven't been fired, it's probably because we were persuaded that agents run on automatic. They don't. They have to be constantly monitored and promptly replaced, if they don't work out.

    Bloomberg is leaving 22,000 homeless behind? That should be a permanent stain on his record as Mayor.

    Obamacare at your fingertips: 1-800-318-2596; TTY: 1-855-889-4325

    by hannah on Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 03:37:03 AM PST

    •  we have to connect the vast majority (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      with the victims

      only then can we rouse their anger at the perpetrators

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 04:52:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  We are all the perpetuators, if not the (0+ / 0-)

        perpetrators. Some to a lesser degree than others.

        And now Amazon is going to have a drone deliver goods, eliminating that many more jobs. That is Wall Street for you.

        Liberals learned their lesson, that throwing money at problems and creating massive self-interested bureaucracies doesn't solve the problems.

        It's time for the right to learn it's lesson: the economic experiment of the last 30 years has been a disaster.

        We have to get the gop out of the way. Then we can invest in clean energy, a response to climate change, a 21st century infrastructure.
        That will produce middle class and working class jobs, and it will take the strain off the social safety net.

        We simply can't do it until the gop is out of the way.

        You can't make this stuff up.

        by David54 on Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 05:25:38 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  For most people, self-interest is more effective. (0+ / 0-)

        Sympathy for the down-trodden does neither them nor us any good. People have to perceive that whatever is done "to the least" is done to them and that, given the slightest opportunity, the predators will target them next. That should be the lesson of the last four decades.
        Natural predators are satisfied when they eat until their next meal. Symbolic predators are never satisfied. Indeed, their predation is sublime (driven by the sprite of hunger) and insatiable. There is never enough because there can never be too much. Dollars, the symbols of value can be accumulated ad infinitum. However large the quantity it does no harm because it has no physical mass. Being deprived of dollars is another matter. Deprivation matters. Regardless of the motivation. Taking dollars away from the hoarders does not deliver more to the deprived because deprivation has its own motivation. Depriving their own kind lets some humans feel more potent or less impotent, take your choice.
        Congressmen strutting about yammering about bargains and hard choices merit nothing but disgust.

        Obamacare at your fingertips: 1-800-318-2596; TTY: 1-855-889-4325

        by hannah on Mon Dec 09, 2013 at 05:37:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thank You (6+ / 0-)

    For writing about this profound article in today's Times, which I just read before coming to Daily Kos.  I was going to post it myself, but I will just tip you for doing so first.

    To me, no matter what someone else has going on today, this piece is a must-read. Much as the much-shared editorial a few weeks ago written by a poor woman about what it is really like to be poor, this piece about little Dasani, her family, and the cruel juxtaposition between their life and hopes as a homeless family with many children, and the increasing wealth surrounding them in Fort Greene, Brooklyn NY, should be the whack upside the head that anyone still clinging to dogma about poverty needs to get it straight once and for all.

    •  I agree. Thank you (0+ / 0-)

      Shitbag millionaire Bloomberg followed the stupid rule that if you gut poor people's safety net, they will try harder to not be poor.
      But as usual, it is the children that suffer the most.
      How the HELL are they suppose to pull themselves out of poverty?  
      This is horrible (One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.)
      Trillions dpent on protection for the GLOBAL corporations that are paid by us taxpayers.
      Billions given to corrupt puppets so they are friendly to those global corporations.
      Billions given to foteign aid which really means it goes to the defense contractors who then give arms to countries. Not to the people.
      Billions in tax subsidies for corporations that then don't pay US taxes and hide profits offshore.
      The billions given to wealthy people who don't need thevtax cuts.
      Billions and billions that are NOT spent here in the US.
      Good god, enough.

      SORRY FOR THE TYPOS. Ziggy fingers on an Ipad :)

      by snoopydawg on Tue Dec 10, 2013 at 09:02:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Powerful, sobering, heart-soul rending piece. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, SoCalSal

    Should be required reading. To open eyes & hearts & minds.

    I plan to share widely.

    Thank you for sharing this, teacherken.

  •   They are our friends (5+ / 0-)

    There are so many families in poverty going to the school that my daughter attends.   My daughter has befriended children in this situation.   Learning their stories has been been hearbreaking.   We have hosted two children who were friends of my daughter, when their families abruptly became homeless.  One remained with us for the remainder of the school year.  And, she has called on the occasional family crisis, and said "HELP!  Come and get me, NOW!", and we do that.   Another lived with us for a few weeks until her family abruptly pulled her out of school and left town.   She visits occasionally, and we love her.  The lice is a real nuisance, though.   The kids are so sweet and wonderful.   In many ways, the hardships they have endured makes them so much more mature, and I believe that extra level of maturity is what draws my kids to them.    It is hard, though, because the stress of their situations sometimes becomes stress for my own children.  It is so harrowing to hear what is going on in their lives, that I had to firmly tell one of them that she was never to mention one subject ever again, to my youngest, but assured her that she could speak to me or my older child, because it was just too upsetting for my younger one.  It's terribly sad when one child's situation is too traumatic to even be allowed to speak of it to another child.

    The reasons for their situations involve, in their parents,  mental illness, serious medical illnesses, detrimental use of various drugs, physical abuse, combining several of these issues all in the same family...

    One of them worked at Walmart for a time.  

    It becomes clear very quickly that money alone won't solve the problems, but it could help in many ways.  

    And, when facing a crisis, we have to ask hard questions.  Foster care is not the simple easy answer that it is made out to be.    There are often peripheral family members, mitigating the situation, trying to smooth out some of the problems, creating a support network that you'd hate for the kid to lose.    A child who is knocked around a bit by Dad may not end up better off in The System, no matter what the propaganda tells us.   Take, for example, the kid who was taken from his parents for their pot-smoking, who then died in foster care.   An abusive parent can still have the instinct to love and protect their child, however bizarrely contradictory that sounds.   A foster parent who is in it for the money may have the same anger, and no such instinct.  A teen can develop some skills and resources for evading the worst problems.  The emotional trauma of being ripped from their parents or siblings, their entire emotional support system, can create scars that last a lifetime, and never truly heal, and can be much greater than the trauma of being hit by Mom or Dad a few times.    I've discussed the options with these kids, and assured them I will help them, and be there for them, if we need to make the call.   And, we usually end up just taking comfort in knowing that we do have a fallback plan.  They decide they can get through another day, and if they can't, I'm often the one that gets called.

    I've made the call once already, when a child had been removed from school, and was receiving no education at all for several weeks, and a member of her own family asked for my support in making the call to CPS.  I had to agree that it was necessary to get the child back in school before she had to repeat her grade.   Because, she was having a hard enough time as it is, and there is so much stigma to having to repeat a grade, and she is so smart.  She can make good grades, if she can just get to school.  Plus, it's her most reliable source of meals.  Her Mom had recently taken to giving her some money at the beginning of the month, and telling her that she was to feed herself on that!  Not for school lunches, which were free, but for all the rest of her meals.  From where she was to get them was not entirely clear.

    I sympathize with your students, TeacherKen.   I don't know all the answers.   But, I can help the one in front of me.  I can buy a kid lunch or drop some food off for the family.  I can give the Mom $20 for gas.   I can take a kid into my home for a bit.  I can listen and give advice.

    I focus on the kids.   If they can get an education, learn social skills, learn how to work, get medical care, and not come out of this too damaged, they don't have to live like this their entire lives.   If they can get away.  If they don't let Mom keep guilting them into handing over everything they earn.  In some ways, I feel they might have a better chance than some of the other kids.   Because, they are determined.


  •  Such a grueling, but brilliant, report. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I agree, it is reminiscent of Jacob Riis' work, though I think that actually Elliott is more compassionate and less condescending.
    Would that there will be a similar outcry today on behalf of the poor children (and their parents) who have virtually no way out of the conditions that blight their lives.
    I weep for Dasani and her siblings and her parents. And, though I don't know them, for the millions of others who are just as desperate and just as trapped.
    They have already waited too long.

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Tue Dec 10, 2013 at 08:41:08 PM PST

  •  I read every word (0+ / 0-)

    This is one of the best pieces of journalism I've read in years. The pictures made this family even more real. It should be required reading for every high school student.

    I am so angry about the conditions at Auburn, and how many years have gone by with city officials letting everything slide. How many kids have died because of the conditions there in the past decade? I don't believe for a second the baby who died in the article was the first.

    Don't even get me started on the inhumane treatment that all levels of administration at Auburn seem to find completely acceptable. This family was treated better and provided with more by strangers on the street than the people who are supposed to be in charge of helping them connect with opportunities to escape homelessness.

    The teachers in this story are the heroes. The amount of social work they do for so little pay is at once both inspiring and infuriating.

    Is fheàrr fheuchainn na bhith san dùil

    by bull8807 on Wed Dec 11, 2013 at 11:04:01 AM PST

  •  If ours was truly a "pro-life" society (0+ / 0-)

    we would be throwing money and love at those children so hard they would be staggering under it. You can say what you like about the irresponsibility of the parents. To have been born to one set of parents and not another is no crime. The children are innocent and if we were real Christians we would lift them out of their terrible situation without worrying about "rewarding the parents for their irresponsible actions."

    "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble."
    Do you think growing up in that shelter might cause a child to stumble into error?

    The situation enrages me so much that I'm not able to say anything constructive about it. If you are ever shot dead by some low-life drug addict, perhaps you might ask yourself with your dying breath whether that person grew up in conditions like those described in this news story. Our society has a solution, though-- just wait until they grow up, and then keep them in jail. Nice.

    One last word: they can't afford an apartment because it costs $2000, but the cost to us of housing them in that shelter is $3000. Why does it play out that way? Because we believe that "good" people must get jobs controlling these "bad" people. If we saved ourselves $1000 every month by just paying for a %#@& apartment, we would be "rewarding the parents for their irresponsible actions" and some "good" people would lose their jobs running a living hell.

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