Andrea Elliot, writing for The New York Times:
Children are not the face of New York’s homeless. They rarely figure among the panhandlers and bag ladies, war vets and untreated schizophrenics who have long been stock characters in this city of contrasts. Their homelessness is hidden. They spend their days in school, their nights in shelters. They are seen only in glimpses — pulling overstuffed suitcases in the shadow of a tired parent, passing for tourists rather than residents without a home.
Their numbers have risen above anything in the city’s modern history, to a staggering 22,091 this month. If all of the city’s homeless children were to file into Madison Square Garden for a hockey game, more than 4,800 would not have a seat.
Yet it is the adult population that drives debates on poverty and homelessness, with city officials and others citing “personal responsibility” as the central culprit. Children are bystanders in this discourse, no more to blame for their homelessness than for their existence.
Dasani works to keep her homelessness hidden. She has spent years of her childhood in the punishing confines of the Auburn shelter in Brooklyn, where to be homeless is to be powerless. She and her seven siblings are at the mercy of forces beyond their control: parents who cannot provide, agencies that fall short, a metropolis rived by inequality and indifference.
There is no snippet from this mammoth piece of reporting by Andrea Elliot that could ever do the writing justice, nor adequately summarize the nuance of the story being told. The basic facts about the piece are:
Andrea Elliott, an investigative reporter with The New York Times, began following Dasani and her family in September 2012. The series is written in the present tense, based on real-time reporting by Ms. Elliott and Ruth Fremson, a photographer with The Times, both of whom used audio and video tools.
Throughout the year, Dasani’s family also documented their lives in video dispatches from the Auburn Family Residence, which does not allow visitors beyond the lobby. Ms. Elliott and Ms. Fremson gained access to the shelter to record conditions there.
The reporting also drew from court documents, city and state inspection reports, police records, the family’s case files at city agencies and dozens of interviews with shelter residents. Most scenes were reported firsthand; others were reconstructed based on interviews and video and audio recordings.
The Times is withholding the last names of Dasani and her siblings to protect their identities. The nicknames of some of Dasani’s siblings are used in place of their birth names.
The story of Dasani and her family is terrifying and frustrating and maddening and even joyous (at times). No matter where you land on the political spectrum, you will, at points, find facts that move you and facts that infuriate you.
I don’t believe that there is an easy answer or a quick fix to the litany of issues at play here. And it would be so much easier—simpler—to say that what they, and the families like them, need is either more assistance or less assistance. The hard truth is that it might take a little of both, or worse, something we haven’t thought of yet. Honestly, I’m not even sure that every issue can be fixed here—I think that some are just inherently part of the system that Dasani and her family—that we all—exist within in this country.
Capitalist society is a triangle; there just isn’t enough space at the top for all of us. The weight being supported at the bottom—by the bottom—is crushing. Relentless. And that fact manifests itself in a myriad of ways over time.
Dasani and her family’s plight, and the internal and external factors that contribute to it, isn’t fair, isn’t right, isn’t something that can just be ignored. How can it be all of those things at once?
Andrea Elliot is going to win a Pulitzer for sure, so there’s no wishing the tale away. And the initial fad of sending this article around seems to have already passed (I wonder how many who emailed it, tweeted it, posted it on Facebook did so without actually taking the time to, you know, read all of it.), so there’s no reason to be concerned with speed or popularity.
But, in light of the time of year, I implore you to spend some time this weekend reading the story in its entirety—all five parts. It isn’t nearly as based in an emotional narrative as you would suspect, although I admit to tearing up at several points during parts four and five. It is objective and unflinching and told in straight-forward, stripped-down language; there’s no need for anything more.
I don’t know what I can do, what any of us can do, to help Dasani and her siblings and her parents, and the thousands of people in situations similar to theirs, do to 100% overcome the obstacles in their life.
I do know where you can start, though.