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Posts Tagged ‘homelessness’

Does Dasani’s NYT homeless story leave you angry? Sad? Indifferent?

In behavior, children, cities, culture, domestic life, education, family, journalism, news, parenting, urban life, US on December 12, 2013 at 1:11 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a story that took a year of reporting and writing to produce, prompting more than 600+ comments after the first day — by 5:30 p.m. yesterday, more than 1,713 readers had weighed in.

English: The New York Times building in New Yo...

English: The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New York Times is running a five-part series on Dasani, an 11-year-old African American girl living with her siblings in a squalid New York city shelter that has sucked up millions of tax-payer dollars already.

Her parents take methadone, do not work and have seven other children sharing a 500 square foot room.

Dasani is smart, capable, liked by her teachers, and burdened by caring for her brothers and sisters. She, like them, has nowhere clean, quiet and comfortable in which to do her homework. Their room has no desk. One wall has a hole where mice run freely.

Here’s an excerpt from the first instalment:

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.

Her mornings begin with Baby Lele, whom she changes, dresses and feeds, checking that the formula distributed by the shelter is not, once again, expired. She then wipes down the family’s small refrigerator, stuffed with lukewarm milk, Tropicana grape juice and containers of leftover Chinese. After tidying the dresser drawers she shares with a sister, Dasani rushes her younger siblings onto the school bus.

Dasani guards her feelings closely, dispensing with anger through humor. Beneath it all is a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and
sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

I spent more than an hour reading the comments, which came from social workers, past and present; from New York schoolteachers; from the formerly poor and homeless able to escape a difficult past; from the fed-up-with-generational-welfare crowd.

A few readers simply shrugged — the entire United States, not just New York City, is deeply pockmarked by poverty now, with the second-highest rate of child poverty in the developed world.

As one commenter said…wait. This story will soon be only one of many. She is hardly unique.

Reader reactions, predictably, are mixed:

outrage at the shelter’s squalor; dismay at the parents’ inability or unwillingness to work, earn money and set an example for their children; anger at the tens of thousands of tax-payer dollars supporting a couple of adults who have made repeatedly poor choices, including producing more and more children they have no way to support; disappointment that the U.S. allows children like her to live in such appalling conditions; confusion as to what can be done to alleviate this kind of poverty.

As I’ve blogged here before, I was a Big Sister in 1998 for 18 months to a 13-year-old child whose family was also deeply dysfunctional.  (For readers outside of North America, Big Sister/Big Brother is a national program that matches volunteers — usually middle or upper middle class, employed and well-educated — with struggling youngsters. The idea is to foster relationships that will help poor children and teens survive and thrive.)

I found the process deeply frustrating, as much because I expected far too much from it and because, I thought, the organizers expected far too little.

My “little sister”, like Dasani, was bright and very likeable, apparently eager to flee the clutches of poverty.

But, sadly also highly unlikely to do so. I saw frightening and destructive behaviors within her family I’d never before encountered en masse — abandonment, laziness, welfare dependence, neglect and passivity — that boded ill for her future.

The desire to flee poverty can also create an impossible choice — between the bosom of a chaotic family a child knows well, and a larger world they don’t. You’re not going to get very far saying “axe” instead of “ask” a question.

I saw this play out with my “little”. The more I tried to find her better options, (even, yes, a scholarship spot at a private school barely 30 minutes drive from her family), the more they shrugged it off.

I admit it. After 18 months, I burned out and walked away.

Children need consistently healthy role models if they’re going to succeed and avoid the pitfalls of addiction and/or teen pregnancy. Dasani’s mother teaches her to fight — physically — which, as the Times reports, gets her suspended from school.

The series’ pathos has left some readers eager to “help” — but what, exactly, can they do?

Donate to charities? Pay even more taxes? Volunteer individually with a child on their own? Foster a child or several?

What do you think?

What — if anything — would change (for good/better) a life like hers?

A homeless man went to church, and this is what happened next…

In behavior, children, culture, education, life, love, news, parenting, science, urban life, US on December 2, 2013 at 12:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

This is an extraordinary story, from a place that normally wouldn’t make the national news, and from the Mormon church, a faith that usually also receives little mainstream press.

English: Homeless man, Tokyo. Français : Un sa...

English: Homeless man, Tokyo. Français : Un sans abri à Tokyo. Español: Persona sin hogar, en las calles de Tokio. Türkçe: Evsiz adam, Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From NPR:

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Finally, this hour, a Mormon bishop in
Taylorsville, Utah, went to great lengths last Sunday to teach his
congregation a lesson. David Musselman disguised himself as a homeless
person with the help of a professional makeup artist friend. After
getting mutton-chops, a ski hat and thick glasses, the bishop waited
outside his church and wished congregants a happy Thanksgiving. To
describe what happened next, I’m joined by Bishop Musselman, welcome to
the program.

BISHOP DAVID MUSSELMAN: Glad to be here. Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Describe the response you got.

MUSSELMAN:
Well, I got several types of responses. I had some people that went out
of their way to let me know that this was not a place to ask for
charity and that I was not welcome and that I needed to leave the
property. I should also state that I had a number of people come and
were very kind to me. But I was most impressed with the children. The
children definitely were very eager to want to reach out and try to help
me in some way

From the AP:

Musselman, who told only his second counselor that he would be
disguised as a homeless man, walked to the pulpit during the service. He
finally revealed his true identity and took off his wig, fake beard and
glasses.

“It had a shock value that I did not anticipate,” he said. “I really
did not have any idea that the members of my ward would gasp as big as
they did.”

Ward member Jaimi Larsen was among those surprised it was her bishop.
“I started feeling ashamed because I didn’t say hello to this man …
He was dirty. He was crippled. He was old. He was mumbling to himself,”
she said.

It wasn’t Musselman’s goal to embarrass ward members or make them
feel ashamed, he said. Instead, he wanted to remind them to be kind to
people from all walks of life not just at the holidays, but all year
long, he said.

“To be Christ-like, just acknowledge them,” he said

Musselman made the invisible visble.

Here is a powerful blog, written by a television cameraman who himself was once homeless, his effort to make this population of the poor, struggling and suffering visible and audible.

The population of homeless has risen by 65 percent in the eight years of New York City’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg; 21,000 New York City children have no home to go to beyond a shelter or whatever space they can beg from a friend or relative.

Here is one Manhattan shelter I’ve contributed to.

As we gather with friends, family and loved ones to celebrate the holidays — those of us fortunate enough to have a warm, clean, dry place in which to safely sleep — remember those who don’t. They can be, for some people, a terrifying sight, slumped on the pavement or dragging enormous overstuffed metal carts. Their utter desperation reminds us what the bottom of the ladder looks like — that there very much is a bottom — the place we work so hard and save so hard and cling to our jobs to stay clear of.

We could never ever become them.

Could we?

So much easier, then, to avoid their gaze or studiously ignore their outstretched hands or cups or their signs, scrawled on cardboard.

I have, and it shames me when I make that choice.

Please don’t.

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“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”

In business, cities, family, journalism, life, Media, Money, news, politics, urban life, US, women, work on September 24, 2013 at 12:59 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The Red Queen's race

The Red Queen’s race (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

The words are from Alice in Wonderland, spoken by the Red Queen.

Sadly, they still apply to millions of American workers, (and those in struggling economies worldwide), for whom the “economic recovery” means little. Their wages are stagnant, their costs rising.

From a recent edition of The New York Times:

For all but the most highly educated and affluent Americans, incomes have stagnated, or worse, for more than a decade. The census report found that median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $51,017 in 2012, down about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999, mostly as a result of the longest and most damaging recession since the Depression. Most people have had no gains since the economy hit bottom in 2009.

The government’s authoritative annual report on incomes, poverty and health insurance, released Tuesday, underscores that the economic recovery has largely failed to reach the poor and the middle class, even as the unemployment rate continues to sink and growth has returned.

Government programs remain a lifeline for millions. Unemployment insurance, whose eligibility the federal government expanded in response to the downturn, kept 1.7 million people out of poverty last year. Food stamps, if counted as income, would have kept out four million.

Since the recession ended in 2009, income gains have accrued almost entirely to the top earners, the Census Bureau found. The top 5 percent of earners — households making more than about $191,000 a year — have recovered their losses and earned about as much in 2012 as they did before the recession. But those in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution are generally making considerably less than they had been,hit by high rates of unemployment and nonexistent wage growth.

New York continues to be deeply inhospitable to anyone earning  low wages, like the women profiled here, who work multiple jobs and still cannot afford housing, sleeping instead in shelters:

More than one out of four families in shelters, 28 percent, include at least one employed adult, city figures show, and 16 percent of single adults in shelters hold jobs.

Mostly female, they are engaged in a variety of low-wage jobs as security guards, bank tellers, sales clerks, computer instructors, home health aides and office support staff members. At work they present an image of adult responsibility, while in the shelter they must obey curfews and show evidence that they are actively looking for housing and saving part of their paycheck.

Advocates of affordable housing say that the employed homeless are proof of the widening gap between wages and rents — which rose in the city even during the latest recession — and, given the shortage of subsidized housing, of just how difficult it is to escape the shelter system, even for people with jobs.

In 2011, I was asked to testify to New York’s City Council.

I’d never before been part of the political process, except for voting, as some news journalists are required by their employers to avoid any such signs of partiality.

The city was considering passing a “living wage” bill, which would have required employers accepting city subsidies for development to pay their staff $10/hour.

I assure you that $10/hr, even full-time, is no living — but mere survival in a city where it’s virtually impossible to find any apartment costing less than $1,000 a month.

It was an eye-opening and depressing day as I waited six hours to give my allotted two minutes of testimony. The only people left, wearily waiting, were the councilors listening to us — and the impassioned black pastors of low-income-area churches, fighting hard for social justice in the form of economic redress.

I had written a book about low-wage retail work, the third largest industry in the U.S. and one which employs millions in wearying, poorly-paid work, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.” I’d worked for 2.5 years, part-time, for a multinational outdoor clothing brand much beloved by customers, so I’d seen that life, even briefly.

I saw there, firsthand, the frustration of selling a $600 ski jacket to a banker whisking his family off to Aspen, (whose firm had likely helped to wreck the economy in 2008), while we were earning, at most, $11/hour with no commission. As members of the 99 percent serving the 1 percent, we were just another servant class.

It was chillingly instructive.

I also saw my coworkers, several with multiple young children, desperate to flee.

The living wage bill did pass here.

But for millions of workers, still, a hard-earned income — or several — doesn’t provide a life of any ease or comfort.

English: Photo of Jared Bernstein testifying t...

English: Photo of Jared Bernstein testifying to the US Senate on May 26, 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the Times:

“The good news from today’s 2012 income and poverty results is that for the first year since the Great Recession hit, things aren’t getting worse,” Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a former Obama economics official and a contributor to The New York Times’s Economix blog, wrote in his analysis of the numbers. “The bad news is that three years into an economic recovery, they’re not getting
better either.”

And, once more from the Times, from Robert Reich:

Put simply, most people are on a downward escalator. Although jobs are slowly returning, pay is not. Most jobs created since the start of the recovery, in 2009, pay less than the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. This means many people are working harder than ever, but still getting nowhere. They’re increasingly pessimistic about their chances of ever doing better.

As their wages and benefits shrink, though, they see corporate executives and Wall Street bankers doing far better than ever before. And they are keenly aware of bailouts and special subsidies for agribusinesses, pharma, oil and gas, military contractors, finance and every other well-connected industry.

Alice in Wonderland eventually awoke from her visions. It was just, all of it — the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, Tweedledee and Tweedledum — a very odd dream.

Not for the rest of us.

How are you doing economically these days?

Better? Worse? The same?

Do you feel hopeful that things will improve for you — or others?

One In Seven Americans Is Poor: The Frog And The Scorpion

In behavior, business, cities, Crime, History, Money, politics, work on September 18, 2010 at 4:06 pm
American Poverty
Image by Monroe’s Dragonfly via Flickr

Nice statistic that.

The Census Bureau reports that one in seven American is now living in poverty. Millions can’t find work,  are losing their homes, living in their cars, bunking — when they can — with relatives. Millions are reaching for the thin, weak strained social safety net of food stamps and homeless shelters.

The shocking part?

That this should surprise anyone.

Recall the old joke, the friendship between the frog and the scorpion; as the frog swims across a river with the scorpion on its back, stung and dying. betrayed, he asks why. “I’m a scorpion. That’s what I do.”

In a nation where CEOs now crow with glee that they earn 300 times that of their lowest-paid workers, why would anyone find the growing chasm between the happy haves and the terrified have-nots unexpected?

The U.S. is a nation of laissez-faire capitalism. It’s a system as brutal and impersonal as a combustion engine. If you can find a way to accommodate its needs, you’re set. If not, you’re toast.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. But no one, anywhere, should gasp in shock at the ruin so many people now face. They played “by the rules”.

There weren’t any.

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Earning $85,000 Last Year, Homeless Today

In business, culture on October 8, 2009 at 2:43 pm
View of a house with chicken in forground

Image by DC Public Library Commons via Flickr

If you still have a job, even a crummy one you dislike, and a home — messy, crowded, expensive, too-small, needing repairs — read this Washington Post story and thank God it’s not about you, yet. It’s a great piece that really examines who we are, or think we are, when we slip terrifyingly — temporarily? — down the socioeconomic ladder.

One family’s slide from $85,000 a year to homelessness.

Here's Some Housing Growth — Tent Cities for the Desperate

In business, culture, politics on August 11, 2009 at 3:26 pm
Washington, District of Columbia. Tent life of...

Image by David C. Foster via Flickr

The name is Pinellas Hope, a tent city of 250 run by the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. It costs $2.6 million a year to run and will not accept families. It offers three free meals a day, and has washers and dryers, even Internet access. The average length of stay is now 77 days — and a third of its residents, typically the chronic homeless, are now economic refugees, those who’ve simply run out of options in this recession. Florida has the highest rate of home foreclosures in the nation, with 300,000 standing empty. Pinellas Hope has a waiting list of 150.

It’s one of many such “cities” springing up around the U.S. as the formerly middle class, men and women, some of whom once owned their own homes and all of whom went to work every day, hit bottom. Here’s a Wall Street Journal story today about one in Nashville.

Today, on BBC World News, reporter James Gordon interviewed Kevin Stutt, a former waiter who has been out of work since September and who now lives in a tent at Pinellas Hope. He described his job search as “terrible” and says he has sent out 250 applications. On the rare occasion he gets an interview, he told BBC:

“I have nice clothes. I go to job interviews as if I’m still living with my wife in Seminole. Nobody can tell by looking at me I just slithered out of a tent.”

These new neighborhoods springing up across the U.S. are the essence of desperation. They may not be in your backyard — or yet, as Hoovervilles once stood, in Central Park — but they’re a visible, terrifying reminder what can happen next if you lose your final grasp of the economy’s bottom rung. Here’s a New York Times profile of one tent city in Fresno.

A 2006 film, The Pursuit of Happyness, starred Will Smith as Chris Gardner (based on his true-life Horatio Alger story), reduced to homelessness who regains much of his former life, even while homeless, winning a well-paid job at investment firm. All of which now looks even more like a fantasy — a struggling African-American man able to scramble back up the ladder, the financial industry his instrument of salvation.

As columnist Bob Herbert writes in today’s New York Times:

“the economic ship is still sinking…The American economy does not seem able to provide enough jobs — and nowhere near enough good jobs — to maintain the standard of living that most Americans have come to expect.” The official jobless rate lowered, he writes, “not because more people found jobs but because 450,000 people withdrew from the labor market. They stopped looking, so they weren’t counted as unemployed.”

More than five million workers — about a third of the unemployed — have been jobless for more than six months. That’s the highest number recorded since accurate records have been kept.”

Gives tarp a new meaning.

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