NOW READING: DASANI’S STORY
Stop everything you’re doing and head on over to the New York Times to read Dasani’s story. I’m interrupting Now Listening – Music Fridays because I was so moved by this story. Andrea Elliot, an investigative reporter for the New York Times followed this young girl and her family as they navigate what it is to be homeless in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. You will be moved, you will cry, you’ll get angry but it’s necessary to see and share these stories. It’s a long and involved 5 part piece and Elliot does an amazing job covering every angle…the parents, the teachers, the system, Dasani. If I said I had an answer, if I said there was a clear solution I’d be lying. But that doesn’t mean we stop caring or trying or thinking. I had to copy some of the comments that run the gamut of all you’ll think and feel while reading it:
This is an extraordinary expose of the Dickensian underbelly right underneath the noses of New York’s billionaire predators, who could care less. Sure, someone will likely reach out to help this family, and the remarkable young Dasani, but that will be the extent of it. The deeply institutionalized aspects of the problem won’t be addressed; they’ll be forgotten and dismissed.
When I started out this work I was as idealistic as so many of the commenters here: How can I help? How are we failing these people? Why isn’t the government stepping in? After months on the job I began to feel differently. By the time I left that job I felt hopeless, angry and cynical. I was ashamed of feeling that way but there were reasons for it and many of them were also illustrated in the article. Here I was helping people get benefits and programs in place to better themselves and the lives of their children and I would see them sabotage and squander those opportunities. It builds a sense of hopelessness in you as a bystander and you can just imagine how the children trapped in those homes must feel. I would arrive home and feel a sense of vicarious trauma.
Dasani is too young to work. She didn’t choose her parents. She didn’t tell them to have many children. She couldn’t keep them from taking drugs. And yet all you can see is that her parents get welfare and so she should suffer.
This. is. urban. America. This is reality for SO many children – likely the kids in the nearby projects have a very similar reality. If Dasani’s story is shocking to you, multiply it by 7 million – the number of urban children in poverty in America. This is their lived reality, without a reporter to commenorate their high points.
There are a lot of comments about doing more. That is certainly the instinct. How much more, though, and what form should it take? The family doesn’t pay rent or mortgage, which is itself a huge benefit, especially in a place as expensive as NYC. The kids receive public education, to the tune of almost $20K per year each in NYC. They receive $1200 a month in food stamps, plus survivor’s benefits. The kids qualify for Medicaid, and likely receive at least 2 free meals each day at school, plus additional meals at the shelter. They receive $80 each time all the kids show up for 2.5 minutes of counseling each. The family blows through several thousand dollars of tax returns without it making any noticeable difference. I’m not saying this story isn’t sad, or that I don’t want to hug Dasani to me right now. But I think it’s disingenuous to act like this family, and others like them, aren’t receiving an enormous amount of services and benefits, despite still having so little.
Our legacy as a society will not be how many multimillion dollar apartments we build in NYC or how many Starbucks we have on each corner. Our legacy will be how we turned a city that was a beacon for immigrants both domestic and international into one of the most socially and economically segregated in the world. We voted for the people that put the policies in place that helped keep an 11 year old girl in unfit housing. We turned a blind eye as NYC became a playground for the rich.