I was surprised how affected I was by The New York Times series on Dasani, the young girl growing up in a City “family” homeless shelter in Brooklyn. I say that because for 23 years I’ve seen my share of family tragedy and anguish resulting from poverty, homelessness, violence and dashed dreams. I thought I was immune to the grief.
I long to invite Dasani and her family to live in our family supportive housing*. They would have a lovely apartment with a full kitchen, their own bathroom and rooms for the kids. Their window would look out on a quiet, tree-lined street. They would have the luxury of a team of staff to support them – the kind of support you need when picking up the pieces of your life.
If Dasani was part of Bailey House she would receive homework help. She’d be invited to be part of a writing group with other kids who have become amazing poets. She and her siblings would go to museums and parks. Dasani would go to school in the neighborhood and know that if she needed help, Bailey House staff would be there.
If we housed Dasani and her family, she’d have a chance to be valedictorian of her class, like some of our kids. She’d probably go to college. She would have a future of promise and opportunity. She would soar!
If we housed Dasani and her family, the City would save thousands of dollars a year. Over their lifetime the savings would be hundreds of thousands. That could be invested in creating more homes for future Dasanis and their families. More tragedy could be prevented.
It’s a tragedy that our leaders have yet to take bold steps to end family homelessness. The Bloomberg administration made so many mistakes regarding homelessness and poverty that the system is beyond broken. It needs life support.
I hope for Dasani’s sake that Mayor-Elect De Blasio is thinking way outside the box. I hope he encourages public policy risk-taking. Dasani and all of the children like her deserve our best thinking. They deserve us all rolling up our sleeves and making change that’s real.
*Bailey House provides supportive housing to families living with HIV/AIDS. There are more than 100 children like Dasani in our program. Here is a poem written by a child in our Family Program when she was 6 years old:
WHEN I RETURN AS A INVISIBLE PERSON
I will help.
Will be good.
The hair will be
beautiful. I will walk
through walls easily.
I will be a
Nobody will see me.
My invisible will
scream out loud how-
ever she want to.