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Monday, December 9, 2013

13

Today's Best Tab Is "Invisible Child"

The unflinching, prodigious Andrea Elliott New York Times story on child homelessness in NYC is generating a lot of talk already and I bet you've all seen it already, but in case you haven't, here it is. The story is centered on an 11-year-old girl:

Her name, Dasani, speaks of a certain reach. The bottled water had come to Brooklyn’s bodegas just before she was born, catching the fancy of her mother, who could not afford such indulgences. It hinted at a different, upwardly mobile clientele, a set of newcomers who over the next decade would transform the borough.

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.

It's a long one (five parts; it might eat the remainder of your workday), but it's the length and the level of detail and nuance in the reporting that do justice for the dizzying subject. [NYTimes]

13 Comments / Post A Comment

BattyRabbit

I haven't finished it yet, so maybe it's not as big a problem as I think it is, but a few sentences here and there in this just really rankle me. Like this bit:
"Dasani’s circumstances are largely the outcome of parental dysfunction. While nearly one-third of New York’s homeless children are supported by a working adult, her mother and father are unemployed, have a history of arrests and are battling drug addiction...Yet Dasani’s trials are not solely of her parents’ making. They are also the result of decisions made a world away, in the marble confines of City Hall."
You don't think you've got that backwards and their unemployment and drug addiction are most likely also the result of bad government policy? You know, how those things often are? Not to take away the need for her parents to be responsible for their choices, but this shit don't happen in a vacuum.
Also describing the Earned Income credit as a 'sort of bonanza for the poor.' Whoa dude. Whoa.
I dunno, maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but I keep hitting sentences like that and making a :s face.

plainandsmall

@BattyRabbit
I devoured this article today, and I live in poverty. I have lurked for years and finally made an account to comment. So glad my day finally came...
I grew up upper middle class, but then decided to raise a son on my own, so I feel confident in saying that I really understand your reaction, but I view the Earned Income credit as a bonanza. I didn't respect the iron grip of money's power until I had squandered everything I had, and now live paycheck to paycheck. Tax season is my holiday time, when I don't have to scrimp and watch every penny. It's my vacation. I'm finally becoming a grown up though, this tax refund will be the first one I receive without desperately needing it, so I feel like maybe it won't all disappear by May. I really think Elliott got this right. The sentence conveys the desperate, reckless joy that a poor person's refund brings.

I think it's great that you're being sensitive. You should be, because you are absolutely right when you point out that it's structural racism (and classism) that has shaped who Chanel and Supreme are, and how well they've been equipped to play chess with checker pieces.

Gosh, this article got under my skin, I enjoyed reading it, enjoyed the stripped-down yet nuanced reporting. It's obvious Elliott poured herself into this article, and I love that. Because our children deserve that. I can't wait to read more comments about this piece.

BattyRabbit

@plainandsmall I'm really glad that for you - as a person with directly related lived experience - the bonanza sentence worked. In my experience, the word 'bonanza' has a silly, flippant connotation to it that (for me) didn't seem to appropriately describe the desperation that was implied in the rest of the paragraph/piece. Word choice issue only!
Also, welcome to the 'Piiiiiin! As a commenter, I guess, since you've been around. I'm also excited to read the rest of the piece (probably slowly over the course of the week UGH FINALS) and everyone else's comments, once they get going.

mollpants

@BattyRabbit Thanks so much for weighing in. There were definitely points in my reading where I raised eyebrows and wondered if I should PC-critique the language, but at the end of the day I don't fucking know what it's like to be homeless and in poverty and I don't get a say about it.

I hope things are good for you now.

leonstj

How the hell do we fix this? What do we do?

I feel like the whole fucking deck is rigged, so damn hopeless for good changes. I read about endlessly rising income inequality, about that dude in Miami getting arrested once per week, I see the numbers of unreported sexual assaults, I hear the insane stories from immigrants I know, trying to get here to escape poverty or persecution elsewhere in the world, I watch the news and see Texas practically outlawing abortion and Republican governors refusing federal insurance benefits that would benefit the poor of their States put of a question of ideological purity.

Then I see how we vote, and how we are a Christian Nation when it means we shouldn't let two dudes or two women who love each other raise a child in a stable and financially secure home, yet have no interest in helping the poor or the imprisoned or any of that. It all seems so insane.

Maybe the only upside is that my cohort - straight white dudes - are overwhelmingly the problem, but also rapidly becoming a smaller percentage of the population. I mean, obviously we're not all bad or the same or whatever, but God fucking damn it.

How did things get so fucking sad? How do we get shit right?

H.E. Ladypants

This is my neighborhood. I run by her school in the morning. I live a few blocks from that shelter. It's entirely possible that at some point I walked past these people on the street.

It kills me that this is so close to my comfortable little life and I feel helpless. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to fix it, I don't know how to make it better.

polka dots vs stripes

@H.E. Ladypants I volunteered at a warming center for the homeless over the weekend, and yesterday after work I recognized a guy who came in both nights. I realized I pass him almost every day.

FinalGirl

I work for a tiny domestic violence shelter in the Midwest; I thought I might speak to those folks wondering what they can do to help change things. (ETA: That got a lot more wordy and flail-y than I'd meant, but I think I'll leave it be.)

Political help: Know your representatives and senators and city council, etc. Be familiar with who's pushing for what, and why.

Know the Numbers: Be prepared if you ever need to shoot down some dumb-ass argument (like "DID YOU KNOW that all those people on food stamps drive SUVs?? and similar nonsense).

And get to know your local stats-- what's the current homeless rate? What's the breakdown for race, for substance abuse, etc? If your area is about evenly divided between X, Y, and Z groups, and group Y accounts for 60% of the homeless population, then what does that say?

Hands-on help: In terms of donations, I'd say wait 'til after the holidays. People get all donation-y and help-the-cause-like during the holidays. Call your local shelter and ask them: What can they use? (NOTE: They can always use cash donations, just for the record.) Do they, like us, always need OTC medications, socks and underwear, ground beef, milk?

Also, just in general, ask. What kinds of physical help do they need? Could they use someone to come through and clean regularly? Could you do it once every other week?

But most importantly, people who're using shelters and associated resources are, in fact, people. They're just people. They're people who are smart, who make bad choices, who make great choices, who're having a shitty day, who take out their bad moods on other people, who go out of their way to support someone who's got it worse (someone ALWAYS has it worse), who care about the world, who don't give a shit about anyone but themselves, who, who, who.

They're us, in other words. And when you can, make sure to bring that up to people who want to talk shit about THE POORS. Someone who's broke is still a person, not just another easy-to-forget faceless number.

adorable-eggplant

@FinalGirl That's such wonderful advice. Thanks for sharing! (as a demography nerd I am particularly happy to see that Know the Numbers and Know your Local Stats are in the top 2/3) I'd add into the hands-on help section that if you are strong on stats and research in general, you can be of use as a grant writer (I used to freelance, but now I just volunteer: it can be a really cool way to interact with an organization because you can help them articulate what they do and pull in mad money to do it better/more).

OhMarie

@FinalGirl Yeah, this is really great--thank you!

adorable-eggplant

@FinalGirl Oh and Mike Dang (a.k.a. my personal finance hero) has a post on ways to help, too: http://thebillfold.com/2013/12/poverty-in-america/

mollpants

@FinalGirl Claps. This is perfect.

FinalGirl

@adorable-eggplant Oh, god. Stats. I'm an English major, and one of my unofficial tasks is making our stats a little more comprehensible-- putting together line / bar graphs, comparing stats across a multi-year span, things like that. You do what you have to in these jobs.

Also, there are few things funnier than pointing out things like LePage's crusade against welfare fraud... which, IIRC, ended up costing taxpayers $10,00 per investigation, WITHOUT recovering a single dime. Comedy gold, there.

(Also-also, one of our current resident kids informed me, just in passing, that she was going to build a rocket robot with a cellphone plug-in, so she wouldn't miss her calls. Very practical.)

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