Profiling a "Girl in the Shadows"

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dasani, the homeless Brooklyn girl profiled in Andrea Elliott's NYT series "Invisible Child" (Screenshot used with permission from NYTimes)

New York Times reporter Andrea Elliott discusses her 5-part series this week on the life of a homeless child in gentrifying Brooklyn. She says she spent a long time trying to find a child to profile, and chose Dasani for her strength, intelligence, and openness. That said, “she wasn't easy at first.”


Andrea Elliot

Comments [53]

Frank from Nassau County

People are misreading the series if they're blaming the parents. The series is about CHILDREN who are completely innocent of blame but still need food, education, safe shelter and a future.

Blaming the parents accomplishes nothing, although the series should be an advertisement for family planning education.

Also, the teacher and principal in the series are far, far greater heroes than anyone who ever won a Super Bowl or World Series ring.

Dec. 16 2013 04:46 PM
Paula B from Chappaqua

I am in awe of this wonderful article by Andrea Elliott. She introduced us to a real child and we see her spirit, personality and emotional intensity, whose environment is so able to tear her apart. But it does not! She is too strong and yearns so deeply for inspiration, caring, and for the right road to recognition. Ms Elliott should be commended for bringing us the truth behind the so called "shelters" in our midst.It is nothing short of criminal that inspectors allowed any human being to live in such uninhabitable squalor.It is miraculous that more children didn't die within those walls.It took a baby's death to make social services accountable and this only because they are now in the spotlight instead of the shadows.

Dec. 15 2013 04:51 PM

Van from NJ

Leaders who allow human beings to live in this kind of hellhole (the word shelter is a cruel joke) should be required to spend one week there. The place is uninhabitable. That building used to be a hospital --- I remember my uncle being taken there when I was a kid -- and was closed down. Why, then, allow people to move into it -- as if this is a reasonable option? Bugs, rats, lead poisoning, and other disgusting, illegal and unhealthy conditions - - to say nothing of the human predators that ARE ON THE PAYROLL. Legal action like ACLU lawsuits is good but not enough. I wish people would turn some of their misplaced anger & blame at the parents back on the NYC system that allows children to live in these conditions. I stand ready to join any and all rally/protest/demonstration/no business as usual events to help disrupt and shut down Auburn and other places like it.

Dec. 14 2013 12:26 PM
Sam Brooklyn from brooklyn

It is interesting that Ms Elliot says the parents are 'battling' drug addiction. Drug addiction is a totally voluntary condition that you combat by not taking drugs in the first place. This sort of comment is made by someone who is making excuses for the addict. If someone is 'battling' cancer, for example, it is not a cover for bad behavior.

Dec. 14 2013 10:12 AM
Margareth garnier from new york

As long as we continue to see those kids as "them" rather than "ours" they will continue to suffer the consequences of that segregation. It really should not matter that a child is born to an ill-equiped parent, as long as he is a part of an accepting community.

Dec. 12 2013 04:12 PM
jenn from bklyn

Can participation in parenting classes be tied to benefits?

The parents may be well-intentioned though ill-equipped. At first, it seems almost benign how an 11 year old gets into tussles with her classmates. However, when Dasani follows her mother's lead in threatening the bodega worker with physical violence all because the mother felt the woman looked at her the wrong way and words were exchanged, it's not that difficult to imagine her growing up to be violent-prone and impulsive like her parents.

As awesome and amazing as educators like Ms. Hester and Ms. Holmes are, how much can they really do, when parents actively encourage their kids to beat up anyone who is perceived to be disrespecting them?

Dec. 12 2013 12:57 PM
Christina from Durham, NC

This is a terrible story, but in every section I read I got more and more angry at the lack of help from each and every single "social worker" they were forced to see. Why are they forced to these pointless meetings across town, when they can't afford train fare? Where someone sits them down and scolds them, but gives no advice, no help, no way out? Oh yeah, that's totally an efficient use of the city's money. *roll eyes*

Where are the financial counselors? Why couldn't the "voluntary" psychotherapy sessions actually give real, individualized care to each and every family member alone? Where are the life-skills counselors? WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS SHELTER?

And finally (this point will be the most contentious) - why do we keep giving welfare money to one man who obviously can't manage it, instead of taking that money from him until he can manage it properly? Use that money to buy clothes and subway passes for himself, his wife and children. Use that money to provide healthy food through the cafeteria and repairs to his room. And finally, use that money to start a savings plan that can be used sparingly as he and his wife learn how to manage money. People who have been brought to this low through drug abuse have no mental capacity for managing money, and should never, ever be given this money directly. The man stole $70 from his daughter and wasted it! Truly, he cannot be trusted to manage a family of 10.

I am in complete agreement that taking children from their families and parents can cause FAR more irreparable psychological harm than their poor circumstances. However, there are so many solutions between that step and now that have never been tried. My only question is why we keep wasting our time with useless meetings. Evaluators, be GONE! Do something useful with your time instead of running all over the city judging people.

Dec. 12 2013 11:48 AM
SPR from SI, NY

Solution: Why not let the family live in Blasio's Park Slope home?

Dec. 12 2013 09:47 AM
kayla from Brooklyn

Kind of outraged by comment of man who keep going around the block to suggest these poor families do not deserve government "help". I am sure no one choose to live in a shelter, especially children. Shame on him for even comparing his own experience with another person.

Dec. 11 2013 08:38 AM
Q. Public from ny

I'd like to know what becomes of Dasani in ten years from now.
Damn the charlatans, poverty pimps, predators that feed on marginalized women and children. Damn the real estate lobby and their eviction courts that destroys communities for greed and the bogus public policies that keeps the poor trapped in a catch 22 system. God Bless this child I truly hope she makes it!

Dec. 11 2013 12:12 AM
anna from yonkers

The parents in this story are also victims. From what I read the father was raised by heroin addicts and the mother was raised by a single mom on drugs and her father wife. I am sure growing up in these painful circumstances led them to relieve their pain with drugs.

While reading the story I wondered if instead of a war on drugs in 80's and 90's what could we have accomplished with widely available treatment. What if instead of wars we improved education.

Dec. 10 2013 07:57 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Randi from Brooklyn

You "love" it. Two dysfunctional systems designed to protect children and you "love" it. Oh, so ironic, much sarcasm, so cutting... I personally know (friends) who raise foster children and they're doing an amazing job with the kids they have. If the foster care system needs reform I'll happily pay for it. More to the point many of these kids should be adopted out; their parents are unrepentant drug addicted criminals who have no wish to alter their behavior. They are holding their own children to ransom and it is sickening.

Dec. 10 2013 03:08 PM
Randi from Brooklyn

I love how many people here and on the NY Times comments section are calling for immediate placement of these children into foster care.

Here's the reality: You see all those criminals in jails and homeless on the streets? Most of them spent time in the foster care system. The foster care system is not a guaranteed safety net for a child's upbringing. The foster care system is as dysfunctional as the families that need it. There's no stability in foster care as children are split up from their parents & other siblings, and foster children are constantly moved from one foster home to another. Also foster care has bred the same abuse of government aid as some foster parents sign up for the program simply for the extra cash benefits. And if a child is still in foster care when they reach the age of 18, the case is closed and you are no longer supported by the state. So these kids either have to live on the streets or, ironically, move back in with their birth parent(s) - the same parents whom ACS removed the kids from in the first place.

Dec. 10 2013 01:48 PM
SR from Bklyn from Brooklyn

Last week, before Dasani's story appeared in the Times, I happened to pick up a book on NYC's response to homelessness during the Great Depression.

The difference between then and now couldn't be more striking.
And you know why?
Because the men who ran the place actually slept and ate there.

It's called caring.

Congrats to Andrea Elliiott and NY Times for great work.

And Dasani:
There are LOTS of folks pulling for you.

Dec. 10 2013 01:43 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Hmm, naming a kid after a brand of water? Really?

I feel awful for Dasani and kids like her, it's a shame that she has such inadequate parents.

Homelessness can happen to anyone but I have little patience for adults who are homeless because of a series of poor life decisions. However, who knows what crappy childhoods they had.

Hopefully, Dasani gets a decent education and she can break this vicious cycle.

Dec. 10 2013 01:26 PM
NJ Mom from Norther NJ

So sad on so many levels and yet what's even sadder is how prevalent it is to think that casting blame is an actual solution. Yes, the parents are a major factor. But the realities to their situation offer no hope/incentive to change. Pay inequality means that even if a parent works they can't earn enough to support the family and furthering the deficit the mom needs child care. Services for people in need are inconsistent to nonexistent. What I find most appalling is how those who have plenty would rather "give" in order to see their name appear on a building in a fashionable neighborhood (and get a tax deduction)and society lauds this. When will some hip urban multimillionaire fix up a ny shelter and put their name on the building??? That's the big difference between the Guilded Age and now. Millionaires back then (such as Carnegie and Astor) would put money into projects that actually/directly benefited those in need. For a corporate service project, how about the employees from Goldman Sachs do some sweat equity ala Habit for Humanity and help repair public shelters instead of raking leaves in a public park??? Not all people in shelters are drug-addicted. Dasani's family did not create the decrepit facilities--it's how they found it when they came. The city's negligence is shameful as is the public's lack of interest. It's time that we stop believing that donating our disposable clothing is the equivalent to walking on water. And yes, you do have to hold our public servants accountable otherwise, why bother voting?

Dec. 10 2013 12:55 PM
Deb from Brooklyn Heights

Please congratulate Ms. Elliott on her well written articles. Case histories are not often as arresting as the one she has described. Brava Ms. Elliott

Dec. 10 2013 11:13 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

By the end of the article the family is living in a huge apartment, completely rent free but have spent all their food stamps on groceries and are still in need of more groceries (though the parents sure as hell aren't undernourished)so the mother attempts to steal clothes to help feed the family and is arrested. All of this is no doubt the fault of "society". So what happens when these state raised kids grow up? All of the sudden they stop being "kids" and all the charities and bleeding hearts shrug their shoulders as if to say "now you can go be a productive adult" when all they know is lying, theft, ignorance, unemployment, drug abuse, manipulation and callous indifference thanks to their home environment. GOOD JOB! Now blame "society" when these kids end up as drug addicts, prostitutes, violent felons and welfare family founders themselves. What a magnificent "progressive" solution.

Dec. 10 2013 11:03 AM
Ellen from Manhattan

I was bowled over by the many indications that shelter staff and child welfare workers are so much a part of the problems of the homeless; contempt, neglect, sexual predation. It's no surprise to m--as a recent NYC public school parent--that the school, all the way to security guards, represents care and kindness for Dasani. I think the NY Time story is wonderful, and well timed at the beginning of a new mayor's term.

Dec. 10 2013 10:59 AM
Carol from NJ

It's obvious that taxpaying citizens, at least some and perhaps many of whom have responsibly limited their childbearing to however many children they feel they can house, feed, clothe and educate are resentful at being asked to support the many children of irresponsible parents.

The writer says that school is this child's salvation and that's where the money should go - school should open at six am give kids (everyone's kids) breakfast and lunch and dinner and stay open with supervised activities until seven at night (again everyone's kids). Doing this will mean that the money is spent directly on children and not on their deadbeat parents. Including all children would provide a service to working parents who need reliable day care.

Foster care isn't a solution, in many cases it's not appreciably better than the miserable parents these kids already have.

I grew up in Newark so this is not exactly news to me.

Dec. 10 2013 10:58 AM
ivan obregon from nyc

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Dec. 10 2013 10:58 AM
ivan obregon from nyc

The NYT journalist is being excessively non-political: When Andrew Cuomo was elected, he came-in and eliminated the transitional state-subsidized program, Advantage, that moved homeless residents with families out of shelters as soon as possible while they waited for placement in nyc housing that they no longer had preference for thanks to Mayor Bloomberg's denial of priority to homeless residents as soon as he was elected. Cuomo was also involved in cutting back federal housing in the Clinton administration and when W ended what remained of Section 8, Obama quietly refused to revoke the Bush administration's decision to finish what Reagan began in the 1980's in his war on what remained of....the Great Society. Neoliberalism has proved to be a handy-ready helper to konservatism when it's come to abdicating the federal government's role and assumption of societal responsibility in rooting out homelessness that FDR and JFK thought they had established as human rights in the American conscience but obviously had not anticipated the Reagan revolution and the neoliberal complicity to that worldview culminating in Bloomberg, Cuomo and homeless children willfully made-homeless by the political establishment blamed on...."other economic factors".

Dec. 10 2013 10:56 AM
annie from broklyn

i amh aving trouble finding the invisible child legal aid link. can you give a direct link for donation?

Dec. 10 2013 10:54 AM

how to help Haiti. by now the amswer is painfully clear - stop helping Haiti.

Dec. 10 2013 10:51 AM
nora from brooklyn

i was really moved by this article. can readers be directed to a good organization or charity that collects holiday gifts or food for NYC shelters? a bandaid, I know, but still.

Dec. 10 2013 10:49 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

At the heart of this problem are two equally pernicious attitudes. On the right are the heartless, hateful people who want to throw everyone out on the street and let the chips fall where they may as a "lesson" to deter the rest. On the left are progressives who think that a parent who has a child they cannot afford to care for or raise is a permanent entitlement to a government subsidized lifestyle including housing, food, cash benefits and all the rest. This reporter is right, forget the parents, the kids ARE indeed the real victims and they belong in foster homes or even adopted out. It's too bad for the parents but the kids who are blameless deserve a chance to live outside of the system.

Dec. 10 2013 10:44 AM
suzinne from Bronx

What parents with half a brain have SEVEN or EIGHT children? Even lower middle class parents have 1 or 2 kids tops. I understand the focus of this story is are the children, and Dasani seems more than worthy of the attention, but it's hard to look at this story and not feel resentment for the parents who are responsible for throwing any and all quality of life for the brood out the window. Speak as someone who grew up abuse, so know full well my feelings toward these parents is fueled by the continuing resentment of my very own.

Am I'm not too sure foster care is the answer. Foster care is highly problematic and breaks up families.

You can't blame society for all the this. The PARENTS made this happen.

Dec. 10 2013 10:41 AM

If there are so many folks living in Auburn, what are they doing to come together and lift eachother up? Do they have group cleaning days? Do they have group cooking? If we provided them with money and food would they care for each other, or do they care less about each other than the rest of us do?

Dec. 10 2013 10:40 AM
Stephanie from Brooklyn

I have written about homeless women--researched the history of homelessness and worked in a number of shelters in the 80s and 90s. Same shocking stories then--not that much has changed. I think the reason is that underlying these individual stories is a practice that goes back hundreds of years: people receiving government support must be treated worse than the poorest paid worker, or no one else would want to work. This attitude--unspoken and often unacknowledged--can be traced through the entire history of welfare in this country. Unless this deep structural issue is addressed welfare will remain punitive.

Dec. 10 2013 10:39 AM
Steven from The Real World

I'm starting to remember why the Republican Party held the Mayor's Office in NYC for 20 years. Building homes for drug addicts with children is truly insane. Both the "parents" and the do-gooders are using the kids to further their own agenda.

Dec. 10 2013 10:39 AM
moshe from nyc

No doubt there are some good parents who through no fault of their own find themselves and their families homeless. In this case, however, these miserable excuses for PARENTS are the real PROBLEM. Get the kids away from them!

Dec. 10 2013 10:37 AM
Hannah Seeger from Manhattan

How do we discourage this child's generation from having SO MANY CHILDREN? Her great-grandmother had 8,and so on into this generation (with multiple problems).

There can be no end to this unless this level of procreation is curtailed and the culture inculcates in young women the wisdom that pregnancy is most often to be avoided.

Dec. 10 2013 10:37 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

"There are no easy answers?" Remove the kids from the parents, put them in foster homes. That's an easy answer. Only a bleeding heart moron would think that allowing children to live in a home with unemployed drug addicts on SSI is preferable to foster care. Easy answer.

Dec. 10 2013 10:35 AM
c-scribe from Brooklyn

Wonderful, wonderful reporting. I was so pleased by the genuineness of this series and the way Andrea Elliott allowed Dasani's voice to come through.

I'm wondering, given how worried Dasani is about being identified as living in Auburn, whether Ms. Elliott or the editors ever thought twice about running those stunning photos of her. And who consented, given her age?

Just curious about the ethics they must have debated - I certainly don't think there was any breach of ethics here, quite the opposite. Dasani and her siblings are brave and I hope get nothing short of a book deal from this that helps them transform their lives.

Kudos to all.

Dec. 10 2013 10:33 AM

Wonderful series. Please ask your guest what individuals can do (in addition to supporting organizations like Coalition for the Homeless and others)to help families in this situation within their community. Are there other models in other communities where people have come together and substantially tackle these issues? Are there any Big Brother, Big sister programs in the homeless shelter system?

Dec. 10 2013 10:33 AM
Kelly from Chicago

Absolutely stunning piece. So glad you're discussing it today. I woke up two mornings ago at 3am and read the story. Can't stop thinking about Dasani and her family and families like hers.

Dec. 10 2013 10:32 AM
Lamar from Harlem

Rapt, I read the article and was profoundly disturbed by the suffering of this child and her family. I was all the more moved by the writing and the reporter's ability to build a relationship with this family to bring her story to the public. I applaud such a much needed unearthing of this degree of poverty in New York City in particular juxtaposed to steriled gentrified Brooklyn. Having lived in an abandoned building for almost a year, I can directly relate to living under harsh condiitions. There are so many areas in this story to discuss. Final point: I posted this article on Facebook and not one of my friends or the public responded; to me, this is a greater crime the willful ignorance or blindness to poverty.

Dec. 10 2013 10:30 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

More "oh dearism" from the Times. This is a problem of priorities, yes, but legal ones not moral or financial. The parents are obviously unfit, why are we housing this family in government housing? Why aren't the kids in foster homes? If the parent's can ever get their stuff together and accomplish more in life than getting on methadone they're welcome to try and reclaim their kids? Our legal system has to admit it has failed. Keeping kids together with unfit parents is more about sparing the parents than the kids who are the real victims. Why is that not discussed? I'll lay out more in taxes to put these kids in foster homes but not so those parents can shoot smack in warmth and comfort. It's obvious the parents are working the system and their kids are suffering, why does this woman sympathize with them at all?

Dec. 10 2013 10:30 AM
will from williamsburg

I literally broke down in tears reading yesterday's installment. We must all do something about this. Which begs the question - how can I help? I do not have money to donate but I do have time and I have gently used kids clothing and toys - what else and how?. Your pieces are a wonderful call to action and connect the social policies to human results. Please give me something more to do than the important voting and calling my representatives.

Dec. 10 2013 10:29 AM

Omeed from Manhattan
U just want to help her? What about the rest?
Call Albany. call city hall and don't stop until these issues are fixed!!

Dec. 10 2013 10:28 AM
scott Bankey

The problem is irresponsible parents having children that they have no intention on caring for. How many of their children will follow in their parents footsteps? Until this issue is honestly and openly addressed, this problem will continue to ruin the lives of children.

The state should pull the kids from the family and stop wasting time and money on the irresponsible parents. It seems that they would have a better chance in life if they left their parents behind.

Dec. 10 2013 10:28 AM

Been reading this series with sympathy and dismay. yes this is a crappy city for poor people, and Bloomberg was the wrong mayor for these issues. but rather than focusing on housing and disbursements, what is to be done about socially dysfunctional folks who reproduce with impunity? very politically incorrect to dance around these issues, but you dont produce children you cant pay for, and yet here they are, begging for our attention, too late.

Dec. 10 2013 10:27 AM
Ellen from Manhattan

I was bowled over by the many indications that shelter staff and child welfare workers are so much a part of the problems of the homeless; contempt, neglect, sexual predation. It's no surprise to m--as a recent NYC public school parent--that the school, all the way to security guards, represents care and kindness for Dasani. I think the NY Time story is wonderful, and well timed at the beginning of a new mayor's term.

Dec. 10 2013 10:24 AM
Omeed from Manhattan

Can you provide information on how we can donate to Dasani and her family?

Dec. 10 2013 10:23 AM
Jean from midtown

Doesn't the poor living situation in shelters go toward the mayor's plan to provide homeless families with money to get their own apartments? It seems that this article is a good case for providing families with the money to find their own place?

Dec. 10 2013 10:21 AM
Edie from UWSs

In the absence of - or pending - better systemic solutions - could the author please recommend the non-profits that MOST help children, teachers, schools, and families like those in her article? Many listeners and readers want to give...

Thanks for this segment.
Thanks for the article.
I was glad to see comments on the article from both teachers and also from those who work in city shelters - adds other authentic voices. I encourage people to read.

Dec. 10 2013 10:20 AM
Sayuri from Brooklyn

How do we fix these shelters? Is there a non profit that goes in and actively fixes them as the city government is NOT working. Our kids-- our fellow NYers-- deserve better.

Dec. 10 2013 10:19 AM
Deidra from Clinton Hill

Interesting series, was hard to hear the interview audio, the reporter was like forcing the child to have an answer and the child had to tell her off, wonder how much that happened. NYTimes coming to this tale late, now that Bloomberg is out the door...
Gonna share some of the monies and renown with her?

Dec. 10 2013 10:11 AM
anthony siciliano from connecticut

This might be a bad time to bring this up, I mean Christmas and all, but I am always amazed to hear about our homeless, hungry kids when at the same time "we" seem to have abundant resources to send overseas to countries like and most notably North Korea to feed their people. Is it me or is there a disconnect here?

Dec. 10 2013 10:09 AM
Fishmael from NYC

Question: how many of the homeless children live in Brooklyn, and, are they part of this wonderful "urban success story"?

By the way, these stories run year after year after year... so, the story at this point should not be just these poor people's stories, but rather, WHY do these stories have to run year after year after year, without anything ever getting better for these people?

We should no longer pretend to be shocked or surprised - it's so easy! - if we are not holding our governing bodies accountable for this.

Dec. 10 2013 10:07 AM
Lenore from Manhattan

This is a tremendous series. Thank you, Andrea Elliott. It's a complex story but one thing is completely clear. That shelter should be shut down!! (Read the description of it in the story.) It is "city-run." So, NYC government, what are you waiting for?

Dec. 10 2013 10:06 AM
Fishmael from NYC

Question: how many of the homeless children live in Brooklyn, and, are they part of this wonderful "urban success story"?

By the way, these stories run year after year after year... so, the story at this point should not be just these poor people's stories, but rather, WHY do these stories have to run year after year after year, without anything ever getting better for these people?

We should no longer pretend to be shocked or surprised - it's so easy! - if we are not holding our governing bodies accountable for this.

Dec. 10 2013 10:05 AM
Robert from NYC

Something else Mike Bloomberg can add to his legacy, ignoring the poor. If all the billionaires in the world moved here as he wished would they have done anything to assist in improving the conditions of the homeless and less advantaged without any or with little hope? Well, would they have done so?

Dec. 10 2013 10:03 AM

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